Three years ago, the Scala premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works was received in genuine triumph. Therefore, it was an obvious consequence to immediately plan a new collaboration between the choreographer and the Milanese company, this time based upon a new creation. Alessandra Ferri, the pivotal figure in McGregor’s dramatic conception in Woolf Works, acted as the go-between for McGregor and La Scala on that occasion, and this time it also seemed natural that the new production would enjoy her presence. In 2018, Ferri had been the lead in McGregor’s first creation for American Ballet Theatre – AfteRite, set on Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps – and AfteRite became the starting point also for this new Scala diptych. 

Alessandra Ferri and Marco Agostino in AfteRite
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The new creation for La Scala's dancers is based on another Stravinsky’s masterpiece, Les Noces. After all, there are many links between the two celebrated scores – both were created for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, both were inspired by ancient Russian social rites, both exempla of the revolutionary visions of dance by the two legendary Nijinsky siblings, Vaslav and Bronislava. But if all these elements could clearly explain why McGregor had chosen to match the two titles, what gives the inner organicity to his staging is the powerful dramatic structure he has cleverly conceived with the dramaturg Uzma Hameed, so that Les Noces, now entitled LORE, becomes the sequel of AfteRite

Alessandra Ferri and Nicola del Freo in AfteRite
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The dramaturgy of AfteRite is based upon a strong inspiration born by the current chronicles about the ecological crisis and the responsibilities of human beings to the desertification of the planet. Moreover, a movie describing the endless research of what remains of the disappeared victims of the Pinochet regime by some Chilean women in the most desolate places on earth, the Atacama Desert, gave the authors the perfect dramatic turning point in their reading of human sacrifice. In their vision, the Chosen One has to be a mother, compelled to the extreme sacrifice by the violent human ferocity due to the laws of survival.

© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

McGregor’s dramatic intentions are clearly readable from the very opening of AfteRite. The dark set evokes an arid, mysterious landscape; on the left, there is a glass greenhouse, with two little girls inside, to look after the plants. From the opening it is clear that the two worlds will somehow collide, and the collision will provoke the tragedy: to preserve the precarious ecological system someone will be sacrificed. It is up to the mother, compelled by the ferocious humans who depend on it to survive, to choose which one of her two children will die. This cruel plot, to which Stravinsky’s perturbing music matches perfectly, is translated by McGregor’s choreography with a too ‘classical’ flavour ( underlined by the use of pointe shoes). The dance sequences respond perfectly to the music, which remains in its rhythmic frames, without taking any true risk of going ‘beyond borders’ to express the innate wild ferocity of a community who would kill a child to grant survival. Strangely indeed, the choreographer remains cautious, above all when imagining the ensemble dances that are too often in academic unison, which gives to the attack a too controlled energy which succumbs to the power of the music. Also, the duets – although intense and demanding in partnering – only show glimpses of McGregor's iconic, dazzling, polycentric movements. 

© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The dramatic focus being the mother’s choice, AfteRite benefited from the performance of Alessandra Ferri, whose beautiful lines are still immaculate, but above all whose intensity as ‘mater dolorosa’ in the last duet with her persecutor – the outstanding, virile Nicola del Freo – was absolutely terrific. She made her gestures of despair and rage devour the space all around her. If only the temperature in the rest of the creation had boiled as in this moment. 

Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko in LORE
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The swirling dynamics and challenging, fluid athletics of McGregor’s style appear in their clarity in LORE (the title refers to the oral transmission of knowledge and traditions). The link with AfteRite is the girl who survives the massacre: we imagine her (Nicoletta Manni) ten years later, facing her own destiny in a society that has become more and more fragmented, where social rituals are changing their meanings. 

Nicoletta Manni and Claudio Coviello in LORE
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

A more dynamic and thriving inventiveness moves the wonderful dancers and with assurance occupies the stage, counterposing solid, structured groups to the twirling movements of the newcomers. Timofei Andrijashenko sparkled with his grand and fluent swirling movements. The score to Les Noces, so steely and articulated, whose emotions seem frozen, is perfect for McGregor's cerebral choreography. Thanks also to Koen Kessels’ bold conducting of the Scala Orchestra, Chorus and soloists, who served well these masterpieces of 20th-century music.