Friday 6 May 2016

Frankenstein – The Royal Ballet, 4 May 2016

Copyright ROH
Liam Scarlett’s much-anticipated Frankenstein got off to a slow start with a lengthy first Act giving the audience Victor Frankenstein’s family story. The death of his mother, his growing affection for Elizabeth, and his departure for University are portrayed in a fairly conventional way, the choreography having no particular defining identity. The dancing is pretty enough but lacks the individuality I have come to expect from Scarlett. A change in aesthetic arrives with the anatomy theatre and dissection creating a darker, more dramatic tone. A fairly unnecessary tavern scene follows before the Creation gets under way. Crackles of electricity and a few pyrotechnics add some theatricality to proceedings before the more subtle gradual awakening of the Creature. A twitch of a hand, a movement in the arm and Steven McRae’s Creature is ready to dash off stage amid the smashing of glass.

Narrative ballets often take a while to establish the story, and so I held out hope that Act two would prove more intensely gripping. Alas, McRae spent most of his time lurking upstage while Frederico Bonelli’s Victor Frankenstein grew ever closer to Elizabeth with only slight hints at the damaging effect of his dark secret. The emphasis throughout felt more firmly focused on their relationship than that of Victor and his creation. This led to an under-developed psychology for the Creature and a slight shallowness to Victor’s character, a surprise considering the psychological complexity and deeply disturbing characterisations Scarlett has given us in Sweet Violets and Hansel and Gretel. The deaths at the end of the Act offered the first thrills of emotion, Guillem Cabrera Espinach playing the innocence of William superbly. His limp figure in the arms of Justine a striking image.

Act three’s design was opulent, the lighting kept low, costumes glittering and Victor and Elizabeth in their bright white wedding clothes, it could easily be mistaken for a scene from Cinderella. A visually pleasing corps de ballet dance ensued and the mood was darkened with McRae’s brooding presence amongst the guests, camouflaged and yet prominent.  Victor’s distraction at his appearance displayed his obsession with his past transgressions and highlights his secrecy with Elizabeth. The placing of the dancers is expertly thought through, maximising the intimidating figure of the Creature. The subsequent struggle and deaths make the internal conflict physical and highlight the isolation of the Creature. However, I feel this would have been enhanced by more character development throughout. I felt a lot of the emotion of this scene arose from a direct experience of the power of Shelley’s novel rather than from the performance. Reading the programme note it is clear that Scarlett engaged deeply with the story yet didn’t quite succeed in transmitting this to the audience.

The music is pleasant, the sets impressive, the dancers skilled, and yet something was missing. McRae oozes stage presence which is always a joy to watch but the Creature goes from Creation to fluid, articulate movement somewhat too rapidly. McRae’s confidence is perhaps too apparent for the confused, rejected Creature that we see too little of. This is not a bad ballet, Scarlett is a solidly talented choreographer, but with such high expectation it falls somewhat short, something that could be remedied with slight alteration.

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