Christopher Wheeldon’s dazzling new full-length ballet at the Royal Opera House is an appetising adaptation, writes Tim Morley.
The company of the Royal Ballet is in outstanding form this year. In May it reprised three Frederick Ashton pieces in the technically brilliant trilogy Scènes de Ballet. For a short season this month it stages the hugely ambitious Christopher Wheeldon adaptation of the tragic but uplifting Mexican magical-realist novel, Like Water for Chocolate.
Laura Esquivel’s tale begins with a declaration from Tita’s brutal Mama Elena that the custom of her not marrying before her mother’s death will be observed. This forces Pedro to marry Tita’s sister, Rosaura, to stay near his true love.
The stage is set for a tale of repressed love, family discord, tortured emotions and emancipation from tradition. This brilliant but convoluted story is cleverly captured across three acts peppered with references to the gastronomy which powers so much of the novel’s narrative.
Bob Crowley’s stage design is a masterclass in staging the unstageable. At one point, an ardent and frenzied Gertrudis – another of Tita’s sisters – despatching herself into the arms of a passing revolutionary, only to be ravished on horseback, seems to defy gravity.
The Mexican heritage is preserved without parody. Conductor Alondra de la Parra has laced the orchestra with some distinctive Mexican instrumentalists, with the bandit sequences being thrilling and alive.
There’s some especially noteworthy performances, too. Laura Morera’s Mama Elena is both ghostly and ghastly. The statuesque Reece Clarke as disappointed admirer Dr John conveys his joy and loss with great subtlety.
Australian principal Alexander Campbell’s Pedro is both forceful and tender. Akane Takada captures the anguish of the heroine with lightness and emotional subtlety. Act III, over which mezzo Sian Griffiths sings Octavo Paz’s poem “Sun Stone” and designer Luke Halls captures the magical realism of the lovers’ flaming finale, is exquisitely layered.
There are many more delicious displays – too many, in fact, to mention. No member of the Royal Ballet’s company disappoints. Unlike the insipid film, this ballet is a feast for the senses.
Like Water for Chocolate is on at the Royal Opera House until 17th June. Click here for more information.