With choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela, the Royal Ballet has created a quite brilliant modern version of the Cassandra myth that reinterprets this tale as a descent into madness, a story told through ballet, contemporary dance and song.
In Greek myth, Cassandra was given the gift of premonition, but cursed never to be believed. In this interpretation, our modern Cassandra is a City Girl slowly losing her mind on a trading floor (I know how she feels).
It’s a wonderful demonstration though of the indiscriminate impact of mental illness for this Cassandra is a woman who walks and works amongst us, only she is disturbed by visions. Through dance, song and film projections we watch Cassandra’s mind unravel, disassociating herself from her family and work colleagues.
Tragically she can’t be reached and is committed to a psychiatric ward but even this cannot prevent her suicide.
Olivia Cowley is excellent in the lead role, capturing the delicate Cassandra with real tenderness but not in any kind of overwrought drama. It’s hard to play someone going mad but I thought she paced the unravelling wonderfully.
The choreography from rising star Ludovic Ondiviela though is stunning, the real star of the piece. A stand-out moment for me was Cassandra’s solo in the psychiatric ward as she fluctuates between the frenzy of her visions and the numbing effects of her meds.
There are also some beautiful pas-de-deux with Cassandra and her love interests and a tender piece with her brother as her family struggle to come to terms with her illness.
The fluid set design from Becs Andrews is superb as we move from trading floor to home, then from kitchen to psychiatric ward. Each world is wonderfully realised with video and film projections and excellent sound design supporting the physical stage props.
Live music also accompanies the production with vocals from Ana Silvera whose rich textured voice was a perfect accompaniment.
Cassandra is a thin story. Here, there is no cause and effect that would constitute a plot. There is no trigger. The mental illness comes upon Cassandra steadily but unannounced. Nevertheless I thought the production really captured the emotion of a tragic but only too realistic tale. The piece had real resonance.
The Linbury Studio may be the junior partner in the Royal Opera House, a small offspring from the main auditorium, but I find its programme of innovative, experimental works often more exciting than the traditional fayre on the main stage.
In the past year I’ve seen modern new operas of Kafka’s The Trial and Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, and there are exciting plans for the Studio for this season too. If you are interested in dance and opera but find the more traditional stuff too long and too dry, keep an eye on this Studio’s programme of events.
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House to November 1, 2014
1. Olivia Cowley and Thomas Whitehead in Cassandra © ROH. Andrej Uspenski, 2014
2. Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi © ROH Andrej Uspenski, 2014