Carlos Acosta and Royal Ballet principal artist Zenaida Yanowsky are wonderful in Elizabeth at the Linbury Studio Theatre
Image ©ROH, 2016. Photographed by Andrej Uspenski
The celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death began, for dance and music lovers, with Will Tuckett’s remarkable Elizabeth, a ninety-minute chamber work first performed in 2013 in Greenwich, the birthplace of its illustrious subject.
A perfect fit for the contained space of the Linbury Studio Theatre, the production involves only two dancers—the Royal Ballet principal artist Zenaida Yanowsky and Carlos Acosta—who share the stage on equal terms with three speakers who occasionally sing or dance, the baritone David Kempster, and the cellist Raphael Wallfisch.
Economical of means but rich in theatrical effect, Elizabeth explores the joys and emotional torments the Tudor queen may have endured privately as well as the political power and implacable majesty she radiated, by necessity, in public.
The actors lead us into her mind, delivering words she wrote or spoke about herself and those written and spoken about her by her contemporaries, and Martin Yates’ evocative score borrows structure and certain melodies and harmonies from a host of Elizabethan composers.
Mr. Tuckett has previously probed the expressive possibilities of dance- theatre through works as diverse as The Wind in the Willows, which transferred from the Linbury to the West End, and Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. This time, he has surpassed his goal of “creating a physical representation of this character and those closest to her” and provided his dancers with nuanced dramatic roles any artist could envy.
Imperious, tender and playful, changeable as weather, Miss Yanowsky embodies Elizabeth as if born to rule the land herself, and Mr. Acosta, whose acting becomes more compelling the farther he moves from bravura dancing, inhabits Robert Dudley, the Duc d’Anjou, Sir Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux in turn. His every gesture seems natural, every step takes its emotional color from the character who executes it; dance and theatre mesh seamlessly.
This theatre will close for refurbishment after Elizabeth’s final performance. With luck, the production will reappear before long to celebrate its subject and its choregrapher’s talent.
Elizabeth remains at the Linbury Studio Theatre until 17 January: www.roh.org.uk
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s coming season will include choreography of Shakespeare’s plays by Ashton, MacMillan, John Cranko, José Limón and David Bintley. See www.brb.org.uk/shakespeare
** For an even more minimal venture during the 400th anniversary year, consider Forced Entertainment’s Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare at the Barbican, 1-6 March. www.barbican.org.uk