Following on the success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Christopher Wheeldon has choreographed a second full-length story ballet commission, a co-production of the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. 

Staging William Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale as a ballet could not have been easy, but with Joby Talbot’s commissioned colorful, exotic score, Turner-inspired stunning production designs by Bob Crowley and visual effects by Daniel Brodie, the story was set magnificently by Wheeldon. In The Winter's Tale, Wheeldon knew perfectly how to tell this dark, complicated story and the characters' inner turmoil with movements, especially his pas de deux and pas de trois, which were masterful.  

This work's première at The Royal Ballet owed a large part of its success to the brilliant performers, Edward Watson as the Sicilian King Leontes, Lauren Cuthbertson as his wife Hermione and Zenaida Yanowsky as Paulina the head of their household. And the second cast here at The National Ballet of Canada, featuring dancers with international backgrounds were as strong as the stars of The Royal Ballet with their convincing, intense performance. The Winter’s Tale is focused on the psychology of Leontes, who is trapped in the thought that his friend King Polixenes of Bohemia is cheating on him with the pregnant Queen. Consumed with jealousy, he accuses his wife of adultery, and orders the new born baby to be abandoned. Only when his first son and Hermione dies, he realizes he made a terrible mistake, and spends the next 16 years in remorse.  

Leontes played by Evan McKie, is gradually infected by jealousy, and eventually falls into madness. McKie's emotions boiling up little by little were expressed in an eccentric manner, through his razor sharp arabesques, and his crawling behind statues to witness the arousing illusions of his wife's infidelity.  But we could see that Leontes' psyche was multi-layered, and it was not just jealousy that took over him, but the pressures of being the King, and the feeling of being betrayed by his best friend who also happens to be a King. McKie was perfect in conveying Wheeldon's intention that Leontes is a complex person and the problem gets bigger and bigger because of this. Equally magnetic as Hermione was Jurgita Dronina who has just joined the company as a principal. Dronina's Hermione is not just a victim of her husband's jealousy, she was a majestic woman, strong and with dignity, trying hard to prove her chastity and protect her unborn child. Her flowing multi arabesque turns were a symbol of her innocence, and her expression of mixed emotions appearing at the last miracle was truly touching. The head of the household Paulina is the key person to this story, a guardian angel to all the people involved. Svetlana Lunkina acted with a sense of both strictness and devotion. While strongly condemning Leontes for accusing his wife, she gently embraces him with delicate port de bras after he has lost everything he loves. It's her unconditional love that protects everyone, and leads to the miracle. Lunkina's striking stage presence and acting ability sublime the work, and one has the feeling of having witnessed an unforgettable epic story.  

The interaction of the four main characters (including Brendan Saye as Polixenes) was marvelous, notably the thrilling pas de trois between the Kings and the pregnant Hermione that leads to the tragedy. Along with the mastery of Wheeldon's choreography, it was the feeling of trust and dedication in the ensemble that brought the performance its roaring success.  Although the performance of the sunny and festive second act that takes place in Bohemia 16 years later was not as strong as the dramatic first act, the delightful and lively atmosphere lead by Skylar Campbell (as Polixenes's son Florizel) and Rui Hwang (as Perdita, the lost daughter of Leontes and Hermione) is a pleasant one. Accompanied by musicians on stage, we could see the strength of the young dancers of the company, notably Kota Sato as the step-brother of Perdita filled with joy in his show-stopping turns, and the very musical and sharp corps de ballet. And here we can witness the magic of Wheeldon's choreography concluding the at first happy second act with the bitter-sweet epilogue, with the help of silk effects and projection mapping.

Setting a full-length story ballet successfully seems to be every company's dream, but few works have been as successful as this The Winter's Tale, which features fabulous production design and score, world-class lead performers and ensemble, and great storytelling.