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Was at the rehearsal on Tuesday evening, with the opening night cast, of Liam Scarlett's world premiere of 'Frankenstein', based on the Mary Shelley gothic classic. Here are a few photos:
 
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Federico Bonelli
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Federico Bonelli, Laura Morera
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Steven McRae, Federico Bonelli
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Set from DanceTabs: RB - Frankenstein
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

By kind permission of the Royal Opera House

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Was also at the opening night performance (on Wednesday, 4th May). In my opinion, it was terrific! The staging was fascinating, I really liked the music, and found the choreography wholly engaging - this meant that each act flew past (which was good, as I was standing). Looking forward to seeing it again

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Still digesting the first night,

 

I thought the music and design outstanding. Act One, with lots of narrative, seemed overlong and bitty, but Act Two really go into its stride: Scarlett can really use movement to convey emotion. Act Three was absolutely stunning.

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I must have missed something because I wasn't bowled over at all! There was much to like, but I haven't come away with that 'wow that was amazing' feeling! More tomorrow...

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Fabulous. Marvellous costumes from start to finish, impressive scenery and atmospheric backcloths, wonderful PDD with inventive lifts and throws, beautiful group dances, and fitting music.

There is so much that I loved in this ballet. Thomas Whitehead superbly scary as the professor in act 1. Federico Bonelli being haunted, during the wedding festivities in act 3, by a vision of Steven McRae and by his memories of those who died. Guillem Cabrera Espinach incredibly convincing as Victor’s younger brother. Meaghan Grace Hinkis’ portrayal of the maid and William’s nanny. Laura Morera trying to understand and give comfort to Victor (and looking at the way she is thrown around in the PDD and based on her acting - Laura Morera for Mary Vetsera in next year’s Mayerling, please!). …

A wonderful evening, and I really look forward to seeing cast 2.

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Would absolutely second Morera for Vetsera after tonight. She was absolutely wonderful, as was the entire cast.

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Thanks, zxDaveM - lovely photos! I was at the premiere tonight and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Visually spectacular, full of drama and pathos, moving depiction of all the relationships and especially that between Victor and the Creature, and great performances. I found the music interesting and sometimes effective, but at times it was too much like an accompaniment rather than something that actually drove the action on, and for me that sometimes led to passages that were a little unfocussed. But there were also times when it sounded like an old Hollywood film score (which is intended as a great compliment!). In fact I thought that the whole ballet was very cinematic, and in some ways very old-fashioned: a great story told with intelligence and panache within a carefully worked out structure. And choreography used to convey relationships, emotions and incidents, not to display extreme athleticism and physicality for its own sake. I hope I will be able to see it again since it's difficult to take in so much in one viewing. But the dancers were wonderful, with McRae both moving and frightening as the Creature, Morera giving the role of Elizabeth such poetry and depth, and Bonelli effectively conveying Victor's desperation. Alexander Campbell really stood out too for me as Henry - such personality, and such terrific dancing!

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A telling monster of a tale was wrought by Scarlett via Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley last night (and why was her name nowhere listed on the ROH cast sheet?) with Macfarlane's scenic design rightfully rising as a heart beating character in and of itself and his costumes the pumping idyll of their artistry ... luminously flushing - as did Kessels' eager baton - even when the veins of Liebermann's score sometimes sagged into 'filmzac'.    

 

Bonelli and Morera bore the brunt of the ballet's exposition with a wonderfully fragile vitality speaking volumes as towards their virtuosity both individual and joint.  In lesser hands I suspect the overall pull of the various FRANKENSTEIN strands might not so comfortably allow the rich characters surrounding the principal catalysts - the most vivid ones - as much explicit tension within which to vividly make their marks.  Last night they seared.    

 

Bennet Gartside's dynamic wretch as Alphonse at the miscarrying demise of Artestis' ardent Caroline gave the production it's most life embossing shock ultimately allowing the spectre of Steven McRae's tender hearted creature an ever widening crevice within which to stuff his audience's sympathy.  We were privileged to help fill the gaping need of his own understandable isolation.  

 

Much as Bonelli's Victor (and how I can even now see SFB's Joseph Walsh thrilling in that assignment when this co-production ultimately premières there) was always enhanced by the very joy of Henry's dedicated bonhomie - one not even dulled by the dominance of Whitehead's glowering Professor, Morera's Elizabeth was also sustainably bolstered by her sister orphan in the storm, Meaghan Grace Hinkis' sterling Justine - for me the most complete and involving character arc of the evening.  (I suspect this will become yet another career altering opportunity for young ballerinas in both the Royal and San Francisco Ballets).  The feeling gusto of Hinkis' character growth charted our own involvement - always in face of the obvious hurt such as had previously drained charity from the countenance of Elizabeth McGorian's graphically strained Madame Moritz.  The irony of her pull was as telling as the heart rendering involvement between the creature and young William.  Scarlett's simplicity in the depiction of that jointure - often there wrapped in a yearning stillness - was palpably moving and young Guillem Cabrera Espinach already fulfills an obvious destiny as a danseur noble to come in a role that I too suspect will give future generations of budding dancers a chance to chart the start of their career climb - much as Fritz in The Nutcracker proffers.  

 

This was an evening ultimately wrapped in a dedicated hope we could all share - and the vociferous cheers at curtain call did but acknowledge such.   .  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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I hadn't noticed that Mary Shelley isn't credited on the cast sheet - that's outrageous! Without her there would be no ballet. I hope that will be rectified quickly.

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I hadn't noticed that Mary Shelley isn't credited on the cast sheet - that's outrageous! Without her there would be no ballet. 

 

I agree.  The arrogance of such an act astounds.  Its mark in the annals of the Royal Ballet archives will now live as a matter of historical record I fear.  

Edited by Bruce Wall

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There are many references to Mary Shelley in the programme.

 

I looked at the cast sheets for The Winter's Tale and Romeo & Juliet, and I can't see any references to William Shakespeare there either, and yet there are plenty in the related programmes.

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Does anyone else think that Act 2 is overlong and could benefit from being shorter and tighter - or is it only me?

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There are many references to Mary Shelley in the programme.

 

I looked at the cast sheets for The Winter's Tale and Romeo & Juliet, and I can't see any references to William Shakespeare there either, and yet there are plenty in the related programmes.

 

That's interesting - perhaps there should be! These writers are effectively providing the scenario, which if provided by a living author would surely be credited.

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Does anyone else think that Act 2 is overlong and could benefit from being shorter and tighter - or is it only me?

 

I didn't find it overlong - my main problem with it was that it seemed extremely implausible that the Creature would have taken 7 years before looking into his coat pocket to find Victor's notebook. In the book, the whole process of him understanding about his creation and his relationship to other humans and to Victor is dealt with gradually, and is very interesting and touching. If you hadn't read the book (which I only did in the last few weeks, in preparation for seeing this ballet) I would have thought that that would seem a bit odd.

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The most extraordinary thing. In the review from the Arts Desk, see the Reviews section, it says that both Nela and Vadim refused to dance. Is that possible?

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I loved the production of this ballet. The sets were wonderful, as were the costumes. I thought the transformation from a dead, hacked up torso to a living Creature was very cleverly done, and I loved the fizzing, sparking crackles of the machinery as life was passed from it to the dead flesh on the dissecting table. It is an affectionate take on how it's done in the old Hollywood movies, and provided the most gothic moment in the whole ballet.

 

For me, the music just didn't match what was going on onstage. There wasn't enough menace where there should have been, and there wasn't enough heart-rending pathos where there should have been. This morning, I can't remember anything about it. The exception was the pas de deux between The Creature and Elizabeth; that was pretty scary, both musically and choreographically.

 

The performances were, as one would expect from a cast of this stature (most of whom have worked closely with Liam Scarlett in the past) excellent across the board. Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli are both dancing this season as if they were still 25, their pas de deux throughout the ballet executed with a passion and emotional depth that befits only the best of dance-actors. Alexander Campbell (bring on that promotion!) was wonderful as the faithful friend Henry, and Meaghan Grace Hinkis a revelation as Justine. In her arrest scene she is tossed around from man to man and deals with these difficult moves very well (deep shades of MacMillan here, as in the rest of the ballet....think Princess Stefanie, or Manon being manhandled in the air), and the hanging scene is very disturbing and realistic. Steven McRae as The Creature. Hmmmm....my usual comment, and I really hope that one day I can change the record, but....whereas his dancing was wonderful, as always, he didn't move me at all. I just didn't feel the torment of The Creature, nor his abject distress at his rejection by his creator, nor his searing longing for love and forgiveness. I am very familiar with the book and all of its dark themes, and these just weren't explored in enough depth for me.

 

At the end of Act One, when The Creature comes to life, it is all very rushed: he pretty much just jumps off the table, grabs Victor's coat and runs off. I would have loved to have seen a pas de deux here; a clear depiction of Victor's horror at the monster he has created, and the initial rejection that The Creature has to endure from the one person who should love him, would have set the scene for all that was to follow. Instead, we get a quick scene in the dark at the beginning of Act Two of The Creature being beaten up by a gang. I would cut the tavern scene in Act One and use the time at the beginning of Act Two to show a couple of clear examples of The Creature trying to reach out to others and being laughed at, rejected and causing horror to everyone he encounters. That would have explained his actions in a much clearer way. Instead, years pass and all of a sudden there he is, and we have no idea of the pain he has suffered. We have to wait until almost the end of the ballet before there is an encounter of any kind between The Creature and The Creator, and when it does happen it should be explosive, harrowing and very sad. I just didn't get any of these feelings. Likewise, when The Creature kills everyone who Victor loves (in the hope that with no-one else left, perhaps his creator would finally love him), I didn't feel the desolation that I get from the end of the book. I did feel Bonelli's pain, guilt and torment at what he had done, and his inability to tell anyone about it.

 

I enjoyed much of the choreography, especially the pdd between Victor and Elizabeth, which I thought were beautiful and expressive. Scarlett is clearly very influenced by MacMillan in all respects, but if this is the route via which he is finding his own choreographic voice, that is fine by me.

 

Kudos also to young Guillem Cabrera Espinach who played William really well for such a young boy. Is his first name a good luck token to be successful as a ballet dancer?!! I was very impressed with his performance and his composure on what must have been such a big night for him! I was also very impressed with how Olivia Cowley and Matthew Ball recovered from an onstage mishap in Act One and just got up and continued right on the music. What pros they all are.

 

I look forward to seeing the second cast and comparing the interpretations. I must also state here how disappointed I am not to be seeing Nunez and Muntagirov in the ballet. I was imagining them doing those lovely pdd and I feel somewhat deprived that I won’t get the chance.

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Thank you so much Sim. You've expressed both the strengths and the weaknesses brilliantly and far better than I was able to. (Though I did feel the torment of the Creature.) And I agree about Nunez and Muntagirov.

Edited by bridiem
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The most extraordinary thing. In the review from the Arts Desk, see the Reviews section, it says that both Nela and Vadim refused to dance. Is that possible?

Perhaps it was just rehearsal overload, with Muntagigirov being cast in "The Invitation" as well as "The Golden Hour".

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The sets look stunning ....thanks for those pictures.

 

I'm going on the 18th May .....will have to look up who is dancing but I think it's the original casting that night.....thanks to all who have posted.....feeling quite positive about it being a good evening now!

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According to The Arts Desk, Nunez and Muntagirov refused to dance the ballet...

Where do they get this stuff from? I had the opportunity to ask Vadim after the Winter's Tale on Saturday why they weren't dancing in Frankenstein, and he said that they simply hadn't had enough rehearsal time. I fully believed him - there is no hint of subterfuge with Vadim.

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Putting aside the provenance of this remark about Nuñez and Muntagirov, and on the evidence of regularly trawling all over for our daily Links, I will happily rush to the defence of Hanna Weibye as possibly the most cogent, erudite, and capable emerging writer on dance.  (As to the remark, as a professional historian, I would be surprised if she made it up and its genesis may lie in the casting changes beaten to death elsewhere.)

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Putting aside the provenance of this remark about Nuñez and Muntagirov, and on the evidence of regularly trawling all over for our daily Links, I will happily rush to the defence of Hanna Weibye as possibly the most cogent, erudite, and capable emerging writer on dance.  (As to the remark, as a professional historian, I would be surprised if she made it up and its genesis may lie in the casting changes beaten to death elsewhere.)

 

In which case it should not have been used to imply that they refused to dance because of the quality of the ballet. That seems incredibly unlikely to me, especially given the dancers involved.

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Where do they get this stuff from? I had the opportunity to ask Vadim after the Winter's Tale on Saturday why they weren't dancing in Frankenstein, and he said that they simply hadn't had enough rehearsal time. I fully believed him - there is no hint of subterfuge with Vadim.

 

I think he also said at the Stage Door (if I heard him correctly) that he hoped to dance in Frankenstein in the future. This gives the lie to the insinuation on the Arts Desk that their withdrawal represented a criticism of the piece itself.

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These are my initial thoughts after one viewing of Scarlett's new ballet. Bits of the ballet work well but some scenes go on far too long. My comments are concerned with tight plotting and timing rather than the choice of subject matter. I think that the designer and the composer have done an excellent job and that Scarlett has done remarkably well with his first full length work. Nothing that that I saw suggests that this is a ballet which can't be made to work and that is more than I can say of some works created by far more experienced choreographers than he is.

 

Scarlett has managed to produce the essence of the book's introduction which explains how Elizabeth became part of the Frankenstein family and  Victor's desire to rekindle life in the dead by judicious rewriting so that this part of the story works in purely balletic terms. So far so good.

 

Act 1. I think that I would have cut the first scene by reducing the number of references to Victor and Elizabeth's childhood of which there are far too many. Scene 3, the anatomy theatre, goes on far too long. The male corps do quite a bit of dancing in this scene but what they dance tells us nothing about them, Victor or the Professor. The choreography is standard male corps choreography which for me went on for ages without advancing the story. There  needs to be an initial scene in the anatomy theatre but it should be much shorter Can someone tell me what  the nurses were doing in this scene, apart from being available to be lifted about? The anatomy theatre would have been a male only preserve at the period at which the ballet is set. The tavern, scene 4, owes a great deal to both de Valois and  MacMillan but does nothing to progress the story, as far as I could see. I accept that there needs to be a break between the anatomy lesson and the creation of the creature, perhaps a short street scene  with the students going off to the tavern and Victor refusing to join them and then rushing back to the anatomy theatre and doing the deed.

 

Act 2 scene 1. William's birthday party would benefit from some pruning without having any adverse impact on the narrative. It needs tightening as it seems to be an excuse for bringing the corps on stage rather than an occasion of celebration. At present it comes close to running out of steam before William's encounter with the creature which ends in the child's death.Justine's arrest lacks the impact that it should have. Perhaps it is because the actual arrest does not stand out from the stage action which has immediately preceded it . Something as simple as saluting the housekeeper would separate the action of the forces of law and order from the menacing action of the male guests who have turned on Justine and are moving towards her.  

 

Act 3. The ballroom scene. This is the excuse / opportunity to give the corps some classically based dancing. It also includes a section which looks suspiciously like a waltz style dance which I think would have been considered terribly " fast " by late eighteenth century Genevan society. I am not sure that Scarlett has got the creature's involvement in this scene quite right. I should have thought that a threatening/malevolent presence in the form of an apparent ubiquitous onlooker was what was called for. perhaps that is what Scarlett thinks that he has created but it does not  work as I can't help wondering how the creature gained access to the wedding celebrations. If the scene was as effective as I assume Scarlett intended it to be I would not have had the time or inclination to ask that sort of question.The confrontation between Victor and his creation and the death of Victor's friend and family all seem a bit rushed and singularly lacking in suspense. Even when a choreographer is following a well known narrative  or one that people think they know a skillful stager with manage to introduce an element , however slight, that suggests that escape from an apparently inevitable fate is possible.

 

 

 

I

Edited by FLOSS
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I think he also said at the Stage Door (if I heard him correctly) that he hoped to dance in Frankenstein in the future. This gives the lie to the insinuation on the Arts Desk that their withdrawal represented a criticism of the piece itself.

Yes, he did, Capybara, you heard correctly.

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Does anyone else think that Act 2 is overlong and could benefit from being shorter and tighter - or is it only me?

Replace "2" with "1", and I would certainly agree with you :)

 

I have to say, I agree very much with FLOSS' comments above - judicious tweaking certainly needed, but I think the basis is there.

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I only saw the dress rehearsal yesterday, so won't comment in any detail, but I have to say that I sincerely hope that John Macfarlane will be designing the new Swan Lake. The sets for Frankenstein are simply stunning.

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