Sadler’s Wells, London,
March 26, 2019
Joy Wang X.Y.
When Queen Victoria died in 1901 she left her private diaries with her daughter, Beatrice, who was charged with editing, copying and rewriting her mother’s story. It is through such an epistolary form that Cathy Marston chose to approach Victoria, the woman and the myth. And so it is with history’s fragile silences, the spaces in between authoritarian blocs of printed lines, that Victoria is primarily preoccupied with.
Editing, even when it leans into censorship, is not just an act of redaction but also one of imagination. In this case, it is about a daughter trying to write her own story and, in the process, reclaiming a complex, difficult relationship. When Beatrice, glimpsing through her mother’s diary, sees a young vision of herself and reaches through eons of time towards her, hands outstretched, touching but not quite, the moment resonates with both the slipperiness of time and the poignant ballast of loss. Marston’s rich Choreographic language disciplines a sprawling narrative into an intimate chamber drama that has a right mixture of humor and seriousness with a dash of sexiness.
Victoria is framed through a series of juxtapositions. The past bleeds into the present and often, they tango side by side. Marston’s interesting treatment of time means that we are treated to two parallel worlds of imaginations which, when they collide as at the end of Act One, is particularly poignant.
But the inversion of time, its juxtaposition and mirroring, also means that time in a sense becomes predictive instead of anticipatory. Inevitably that means that some of the events are foreshadowed: we know what will happen before it happens and so, when it does, some of its narrative impact, the immediacy of the moment is lost.
Perhaps here there is a larger question about the physical language of memory: what does dance filtered through distant echoes of time look like? What is the physical texture of memory? And what happens when that is set against the present. In Marston’s ballet, at moments it feels as if the characters pulled from the pages of Victoria’s diary seem refracted by a narrow shaft of light; like puppets recreated in the shadowy slips of Beatrice’s mind eye.
That temporal bias is fine except that in this ballet most of the dancing is done by Victoria and so for the most part we are in the murkier half. Abigail Proudanes is tall dancer with a certain frankness and stateliness but her Victoria remains, for the most part, unknowable: a little stiff, a little too opaque. Instead, it is Beatrice (and whether that is because of the dancer or the dance it is hard to say) who is the ballet’s dramatic core. At moments, this uneven oscillation between the ballet’s heart and its head, between the physical unfolding of narrative (Victoria) and its emotional nucleus (Beatrice), especially when that is paralleled with a similar juxtaposition in time, unbalances matters.
Still, the ballet moves because Pippa Moore’s Beatrice is an engrossing storyteller. Whether chasing phantoms or burnishing grief, or hovering at the side of the stage flipping through the pages of her mother’s diary Moore gives a quietly commanding performance. In a way, she is everything that she has written out of her mother’s story: vulnerable, imperfect, and all the more moving for it.
Victoria by Northern Ballet continues on tour, and can be seen in cinemas on June 25. Visit northernballet.com/victoria for all dates and venues.