British choreographer Cathy Marston is well-known for her skilfully portrayed adaptations, such as Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts or Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Her newest production is no exception, for which she chose the life story of Queen Victoria, shown through her youngest daughter Beatrice's eyes. The piece marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria and premiered in March 2019. Although based on the literature – mainly Victoria’s diaries – as well as Marston’s other works, this narrative had much more historical detail than previous creations; this is both the strength and the weakness of the piece.
The choreography of Victoria reconciled classical ballet with more contemporary elements. It was bold and even provocative at times. For instance, the love act between Victoria and her husband, made the piece unpredictable and, thus, highly interesting to watch. The most exciting thing about it was its originality, stemming from the intricate trios with Miki Akuta (young Beatrice) and Pippa Moore (older Beatrice) and, of course, a duet of Abigail Prudames (Queen Victoria) and Joseph Taylor (Prince Albert). Yet, even though the dancers were highly technical and energetic, the choreography did not feel passionate enough to translate feeling. It did display the relationships between the characters and, most importantly, the dominance of conflict in the life of Queen Victoria, but it seemed more like facts displayed in a movement, rather than a real story happening in front of our eyes. Composer Philip Feeney's score possibly contributed to this lack of emotionalism, which — despite being well-played and wholly listenable — felt detached from what was going on stage and rather stiff at times when feelings should have been exploding.
The set design, courtesy of Steffen Aarfing, was no less traditional than the choreography. A set of large bookshelves and a staircase were the only decorations, which, thoughtfully paired with brilliant lighting by British lighting designer, Alastair West, never allowed the stage to feel empty. Conversely, this combined with dozens of dancers proved at times overwhelming. Creating a piece based on such outstanding personalities like Victoria is understandably challenging, as much of important information has to be eventually omitted. It is likely due to the non-linear storyline and vast source material that the story became difficult to follow.
Victoria reveals a more personal side to arguably one of the greatest monarchs in British history. Marston's production highlights Victoria's strength, familial love and the sacrifices made for the sake of her country. From inventive choreographic motifs to well-developed techniques, it was enjoyable and conducted in a thoroughly professional manner – yet all these elements joined together felt disconnected. The piece left me confused, but nonetheless provoked some intellectually stimulating ideas.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
April – June 2019
See further details here.