Elizabeth at the Barbican
Dance review: Elizabeth at the Barbican
She arrives on stage, dolled up in her regal finery, her red hair fabulously coiffed, every inch of her dressed to rule. Suddenly the layers are stripped away and Elizabeth I is no longer a monarch but a feeble flesh-and-blood woman. The year is 1603, the year of her death. Will Tuckett and Alasdair Middleton’s dance-theatre collaboration then takes us back to the beginning of her reign, in 1558, in a show that explores Elizabeth’s relationships with the men in her life.
The Virgin Queen didn’t have much luck with the opposite sex, but that wasn’t from a lack of trying. Her list of “favourites” included Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), Sir Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux (Earl of Essex), but she was betrayed by them all. Even the Duc d’Anjou, the French toy boy she was supposed to marry, abandoned her by dying prematurely.
Middleton draws on poems, songs and letters of the time (some of them written by Elizabeth) to flesh out the story. Tuckett’s articulate pointe shoe choreography is classically vibrant with a tinge of period flavours, a sheen of regal authority and bursts of acute emotional pain. Martin Yates’s score for solo cello (played wonderfully by Raphael Wallfisch) draws on the music of Elizabethan composers such as John Dowland and Thomas Tallis. A trio of actresses, led by the marvellous Samantha Bond, deliver the words; the baritone Julien Van Mellaerts brings the songs to life with warmth and wit.
Zenaida Yanowsky, the former Royal Ballet principal (this revival is presented by the Royal Ballet), inhabits the many faces of the Tudor queen, from the coquettish but headstrong young woman who loved to sing and dance to the embittered old woman ravaged by time. Yanowsky is radiant throughout the 90 minutes; passionate, tempestuous, melancholic and majestic. A statuesque presence on stage, she looks gorgeous in a succession of beautiful frocks designed by Fay Fullerton.
Yanowsky is well matched by her brother Yury, who brings humour and pathos to the proceedings as the feisty peacock Leicester, the foolish Duc d’Anjou, the rogueish and randy Raleigh and the treacherous Essex.