Saturday, 23 July 2022

Like Water for Chocolate

Standard YouTube Licence

The Royal Ballet Lije Water for Chocolate The Royal Opera House, 8 June 2022, 19:30

I saw Like Water for Chocolate on 8 June 2022. It was my first trip back to Covent Garden since Onegin on 18 Jan 2020 (see The Royal Ballet's "Onegin" 8 March 2022).  I set out my first impressions on BalletcoForum immediately after I had seen it and in slightly more detail on Facebook a few hours later. It can be seen from those remarks that I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The ballet was inspired by Laura Esquivel's novel Como agua para chocolate which has also been made into a film.  The title is curious to English ears probably because few of us make chocolate from scratch.  It refers to emotions that are about to boil over like a pan on the stove.  The reason why emotions run high is that Tita, a young woman, is prevented from marrying her lover, Pedro, by a custom that requires the youngest daughter to care for her mother for so long as she lives.   Her misery increases when her mother persuades Pedro to marry Tita's elder sister and Pedro agrees to do simply to be nearer Tita.   For those who have not yet seen the ballet, read the book or watched the film, the story is here,

In the YouTube video Insights: Lije Water for Chocolate - Beginnings and Origins, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon explained how he came to create the ballet.  The film was one of the videos that he watched at his lodgings in New York shortly after he had landed before he had time to make friends.  To him, it was a lovely film.   Later he read the novel which he also enjoyed.  The notion of creating a ballet based on the novel took root in his mind at that time.

In the video, Judith Mackrell says that every chapter begins with one of Tita's recipes.  Gastronomy is important to Esquivel who recounted how she prepared meals for Wheeldon at her home.   It is through making delicious meals that Tita expresses her feelings.   That is difficult to replicate on stage which is why the ballet is inspired by the book and not a literal transposition.  In the video, Esquivel compares the art of the chef to that of the choreographer.  The chef has to select and arrange ingredients just as the choreographer has to select and arrange the elements of the ballet.  That analogy is appealing.   One way of appreciating the ballet is to treat it as an analogue to the perfect meal

One of the most important ingredients of that ballet is music.  The composer was Joby Talbot who wrote the score for The Winter's Tale, Alice'sAdventures in Wonderland and Chroma.  The conductor who interpreted Talbot's music is Alondra de la Parra.  She is Mexican and on the day that I saw the ballet she unfurled a massive Mexican flag at the reverence.  She was musical consultant to the company as well as conductor.  She discussed her contribution to the ballet in an interview with Kevin O'Hare.  Mexico is a large and diverse country which de la Parra compared to a planet.  Each region had its own musical traditions and even its own instruments some of which were demonstrated in Insights: Like Water for Chocolate - Music and Design.

Other important ingredients are the sets and costumes.   Wheeldon's designer was Bob Crowley who had worked with Wheeldon on The Winter's Tale and Alice'sAdventures in Wonderland.  The set and costume designers who assisted Crowley appear in the Music and Design video. Esquivel was closely involved in the designs.  Apparently, she is a collector of textiles and there is a charming recollection by Lynette Mauro, the costume designer, of Edquivel's delight as Mauro draped one of her favourite materials around a dancer.  I could see occasional similarities with The Winter's Tale in the designs for Like Water for Chocolate such as a tree as the central feature of one of the scenes.

There are some ballets that I forget the next morning and others that I can remember in every detail from 50 or 60 years ago.   The performance on 8 June 2022 is one of the latter.   It was memorable in every respect.   Yasmine Naghdi was Tita and Cesar Corrales was her Pedro.   Their final dance as their surroundings were consumed by fire was the high point of the ballet and I will remember it for the rest of my life.   The other great female role was Mama Elena danced by Fumi Kaneko,  Hers is perhaps the most difficult role in the work because she is Tita's oppressor but she was also oppressed.  One of the most poignant moments of the show which is rehearsed in the video is the murder of her lover.  There were splendid performances by Claire Calvert as Rosaura, Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Gertrudis and Williams Bracewell as Dr John Brown.   I could continue.   All who took part in the show excelled.  All are to be congratulated/

In the Beginnings and Origins, Wheeldon advised the audience to arrive a little bit earlier than usual to read the programme advice.   That is good advice but it is not enough.  It is not even possible for the thousands around the world who will only see it in the cinema.   The best advice I can give for those who want to appreciate the ballet fully is to watch the three Insight videos which will take three hours to run.  Also, if possible, to read the book and watch the film which I plan to do next.   In a small way, I hope this article will help.

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