The Tempest Replica, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite dazzlingly explores Shakespeare’s drama

Crystal Pite is a choreographer who has worked in her native Canada and in Frankfurt with William Forsythe. I first saw her dances in Toronto, and was fascinated by the acuteness of her movement, its clarity. Later pieces have variously won my heart with their subtleties, but nothing prepared me for the imaginative power that makes this contemplation of means and meaning in The Tempest so moving and so potent.

It is played in two self-reflecting halves. In the first, Prospero (the magnificent Eric Beauchesne) directs the action as played out by white-clad and almost anonymous figures. They embody Shakespeare’s themes as indicated by brief quotations and stage directions projected on to the set (austerely nothing, dazzlingly well-lit), and these characters, thanks to Pite’s imaginative skill, are entirely expressive. The drama here is ritual.

In the subsequent and modern-dressed half, we see the emotional underpinning, the world of feelings, tensions, action and retribution that is the sustaining matter of Shakespeare’s narrative. We are given hints of Pite’s objectives by way of further projected quotations, but, in essence, this fascinating work concerns itself with how a dramatic structure may disclose feeling, how we interpret that feeling, and how that feeling shapes, controls and, perhaps, deforms narrative dance.

Here is choreography of commanding sensitivity and boldest assurance in means, as Shakespeare’s tale is analysed in the light of Pite’s brave intelligence. Dance is meditation on motive, and choreography acquires a mysterious resonance as Pite acknowledges herself in Prospero’s role as guiding force. Everywhere theatrical effects are weighted with emotional significance. (The opening shipwreck – done on a shoestring – is vastly more potent than those recent maritime disasters in Le Corsaire and The Winter’s Tale.) Pite tells us about actions and their psychological reverberations, about the shifting nature of motives.

And she tells us in dance of hypnotic power, hugely demanding, ablaze with energy, not least in a stunningly fierce dialogue between Prospero and Caliban. This is a beautiful and reverberant creation, its score and design wholly apt. It is brilliantly staged, superlatively danced – a work of rare and splendid art.

Continues to the Birmingham Hippodrome on May 2-3 and then to Toronto and beyond,

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