Mayerling, Royal Opera House, London
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Edward Watson is an exceptional dancer – the Royal Ballet has never before shown us an artist of such very different and distinctive powers. His physique is lean as a greyhound’s. His line, that way in which a dancer’s body displays and explores choreography, is as taut, as wiry and, at times, as nervously questioning as Egon Schiele’s in probing character, in finding a truth about movement and dynamics, just as Schiele discloses personality or a state of mind.
In recent seasons Watson has made an indelible mark on his every role, be it as a chillingly scary teacher in The Lesson, as the manipulative brother in MacMillan’s My Brother, My Sisters, or in the plotless (but somehow plot-full, in Watson’s performances) developments of Balanchine’s Four Temperaments or MacMillan’s Gloria, or in the introversions of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma.
This season Watson has been cast as Rudolf in Mayerling, and I was knocked sideways by his second performance on Tuesday night. Here was the role as never seen before, a pale and haunted princeling whom we know at once is at odds with his world beneath a superficial elegance of manner, his actions marked by a neurotic bravado that ill masks the nervous terrors that drive him on.
Watson’s physical line unfurls and drives through the dance like a scalpel, seeking Rudolf’s every symptom of mania. The key incident is the closet scene with the Empress Elizabeth (superbly taken by Cindy Jourdain), where Rudolf’s anguished appeals are greeted with the mother’s frozen inability to respond.
Watson’s vulnerability here, and the final dreadful glance back at the Empress as Rudolf leaves for his wedding night, partake of the highest theatrical art: we know we are watching a prodigious dance-actor.
Everything else, each terrifying twist and subterfuge of Rudolf’s behaviour (and of MacMillan’s dances, which seem new-minted by Watson) springs from this incident, and Watson has the psychic and physical strength to drive the role and the ballet to its terrible conclusion.
Here is rare, heart-tearing, heart-lifting artistry and we are privileged to watch it. The company performances (Mara Galeazzi and Sarah Lamb ideally good as Mary Vetsera and Mme Larisch) were very fine.
Tel +44 (0) 20 7304 4000.