Wayne McGregor’s ballet triptych Woolf Works, inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf, met with outstanding critical acclaim on its premiere in 2015, and went on to win McGregor the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography and the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. The Independent described it as, ‘it glows with ambition … a brave, thoughtful work’; The Guardian concluded that ‘it takes both McGregor – and the concept of the three-act ballet – to a brave and entirely exhilarating new place’.
Each of the three acts springs from one of Woolf’s landmark novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves – enmeshed with elements from her letters, essays and diaries.
Part 1: I Now, I Then depicts an uncertain middle-aged woman, Clarissa Dalloway, dancing with her husband, while gazing at her younger self. Similarly, shell-shocked war veteran Septimus Smith dances with his spouse, while reaching back to memories of his adored soldier buddy, Evans.
Part 2: Becomings is a high-tech, time-bending fantasy featuring several versions of Orlando of different genders travelling through time.
Part 3: Opening with a recording of Woolf’s suicide note, Tuesday features a central female character beset by wave upon wave of dancers, representing Woolf’s life flashing past as she drowns.
Woolf Works expresses the heart of an artistic life driven to discover a freer, uniquely modern realism, and brings to life Woolf’s world of ‘granite and rainbow’, where human beings are at once both physical body and uncontained essence. Woolf Works was McGregor’s first full-length work for The Royal Ballet, and saw him reunited with regular collaborator Max Richter, who provides a commissioned score incorporating electronic and orchestral music.