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I am just about to place a couple of hats in the microwave. One is The Winter's Tale which I damned with the faintest of praise in Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale" 14 April 2014. The other are the Royal Opera House's HDTV transmissions which I described as "good quality hamburger" in Giselle and I was even less polite about Don Quixote. Tonight I floated out of the Huddersfield Odeon after watching the HDTV transmission of The Winter's Tale with a smile from ear to ear. Act I, which had dragged last time, simply flew for me. The tension was palpable. Act II, which had saved the ballet for me the first time I saw it revealed fresh delights. Act III with the triple reconciliation was sublime.
Now this is how I should have felt on 12 April 2014 when I saw the same show in Covent Garden. This is the reason why I think I got it this time but not then. Act I, the longest of the three Acts, is crucial to the appreciation of this ballet and the key to appreciating that Act are the contortions of Leontes's body and the expressions on his face. These were prominent on screen but I missed them entirely when I was in the House. It may be that the interviews before the show - particularly the one with Watson - were helpful for they alerted the audience as to what to look out for. Wheeldon had remarked how Watson could turn his body into the most remarkable shapes to express his anguish and so he did. Those contortions and facial expressions exerted enormous tension. In the second interval Wheeldon had described his cast as "actors who dance" rather than the converse. Leontes's build up of jealousy and loathing until his explosion of rage exemplifies those qualities magnificently.
Having cracked Leontes's emotions I found myself appreciating the other features of Act I. The complex textures of Joby Talbot's score, Bob Crowley's designs and Natasha Katz's lighting. I even got to see the bear. Its muzzle, which was so clear on screen, was just a length of cloth when I saw it live. I was already looking forward to Act II but I found new detail in the dancing, new rhythms in the score and best of all the expression on Lamb's face when McRae asked her to marry him. I had also liked Act III on 12 April but this time I took in Cuthbertson's final pas de deux with Watson properly. As an expression of love it was simply beautiful.
I noticed from the tweets that I was not the only one who enjoyed the transmission more than the live show. This was a particularly good broadcast, much better than Giselle or Don Quixote. I think this is a ballet that does work well for cinema but I also think it is a work that needs to be seen more than once to be appreciated properly.
I love the Royal Ballet very much having followed it for nearly 60 years. I love the House more than any other theatre in the world. I love all the dancers who have ever trod its boards. It is so good to be able to write this review.