Woolf Works Review – Alessandra Ferri delves deeper into Wayne McGregor’s modern masterpiece

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Woolf works is a beauty – a ballet of captivating sentiment and radical intellectual intent. When it premiered at the Royal Ballet in 2015, it felt like a breakthrough for its choreographer, Wayne McGregor. Now returning for only its 19th performance, it emerges as a classic – one of those rare moments when form and content are reshaped and repurposed in dance.

It centers on Alessandra Ferri, who has returned to both the stage and the Royal Ballet to create the role of Virginia Woolf. At almost 60 years old (and sharing the role with Natalia Osipova and Marianela Nuñez in other performances), she gives it even more depth. It is her grave, graceful presence, full of trembling hope and sluggish, drowning sadness, that anchors the piece.

Woolf worksThere is a deep wisdom in its structure that makes each of its three acts reflect a different novel. It opens with I now, I thenrelated to Mrs Dalloway, with Ferri literally stepping into Woolf’s words, spoken by the author herself, flooding a screen. The plot that unfolds continues this feeling of Woolf in the midst of her own imagination, associating her with the character of Clarissa Dalloway, surrounded by memories of her youth and haunted by war veteran Septimus Smith.

In a flow of dreamlike groupings, McGregor establishes patterns of movement that are repeated throughout the work – images of standing on the edge of things, either in excitement or fear; moments of immersion in water; a repeated gesture with Ferri delicately raising her arms in front of her face, as if to ward off danger or simply to say goodbye.

“A Duet of Gentle Tenderness”: William Bracewell and Alessandra Ferri. Photo: Tristram Kenton/The Observer

These steps mean that also in the second act – Becomerelated to Orlando – When the Woolf character isn’t appearing amid the swoosh and whirr of dancers whirling across the stage in a thrilling spectacle of fluid time travel, she is a constant presence. Through the final section, Tuesdaypulled out The wavesshe is the center of attention again.

Ferri and William Bracewell perform a duet of gentle tenderness to a shot of actress Gillian Anderson reading Woolf’s suicide note, filled with the author’s fear of insanity and her love for her husband Leonard. Ferri then walks away until she is engulfed in a tide of dancers who envelop her in swirling motions that mirror the movie of the sea playing above their heads.

Related: Alessandra Ferri: “I swear he had an energetic aura while dancing with Nureyev”

What’s amazing about that Woolf works McGregor throws so many elements into the mix, shaping them all to his purpose: Max Richter’s score, which perfectly captures the changing moods; Designs by the architectural offices of Ciguë and We Not I; Lucy Carter’s mood lighting; the Ravid Deepres video; Chris Eker’s elegant sound design; and Uzma Hameed’s sophisticated dramaturgy.

All allow the dance to embody a complex meditation on time, memory and death, in a way as fragmented and haunting as Woolf’s own writing. The dancers meet their challenges with abandon and abandon, whether it’s Calvin Richardson dissipating the anguish of Septimus or Joseph Sissens, Fumi Kaneko and Francesca Hayward capturing the tilt and ferocity Orlando’s changing forms or Bracewell’s great grace and intensity. Above all, there is Ferri, who bases the work on truth.

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