Liam Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’

The event at the Royal Opera House

Royal Ballet, Frankenstein. Steven McRae reanimates Shelley's tragic demon
Royal Ballet, Frankenstein. Steven McRae reanimates Shelley's tragic demon
1 JUL 2016
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The Royal Ballet is opening up towards new ideas thanks to one of its youngest choreographers: Liam Scarlett. The thirty-year-old artist, retired from ballet in 2012 and started his career in choreography immediately afterwards. He has just brought Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ on stage in a majestic version. The transposition of a text which lives on the daring and evocative nuances of words is hard to obtain. However, thanks to a superb cast and an exceptional composer, the Royal Ballet has achieved its goal.

In the version chosen for the live streaming on the 18th of May, the incomparable Federico Bonelli and Steven MacRae played the scientist and the creature respectively. Scarlett’s ballet in three acts opens with Victor’s younger years lived together with his girlfriend Elisabetta, abruptly interrupted by the death of his mother, followed by his leave to start higher academic studies in anatomy.

The reconstruction of the XIX century study classroom is sublime and the creation moment pure pathos. However, it is in the interaction between the main characters and the creature that the ballet reaches a different level (positively reminding us of the prose version by Boyle, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, in 2011), revealing its true nature: narrating the rejection of the different and of unrequited love. Steven MacRae’s creature is superb, both alert and mad, looking for compassion and blinded by his homicidal fury when he cannot find it.

The atmospheres and choreographies may remind you of MacMillan, but these hints are never invasive; Scarlett’s ballet – in fact – can be seen as a prelude of the next season that will celebrate the 25th anniversary of MacMillan’s death. The costumes, especially in the third act, are magnificent and can be considered as co-protagonists in this lugubrious feast, with a breath-taking finale.

As far as the music is concerned, the American composer Lowell Liebermann was appointed last year. Even if he has often dealt with ballet in the past, this was the first time he was commissioned with an entire piece, he admittedly said he approached Scarlet’s work as Victor does with his creature: dissecting every detail.

Finally, as the director of the Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare has rightly underlined, not only Liam Scarlett leaves us eager to discover what his artistic maturity will bring, but he also gives us a chance to appreciate the quality of the Royal Ballet’s live streaming, as it does not diminish the magic of the live performance. On the contrary, it allows its fruition for an international audience: bravo!