Cassandra insight evening, Royal Ballet, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH - reviewed on 9th September
Ludovic Ondiviela’s first full-length work was explored this week at an insight event as part of the Deloitte Ignite festival. The evening opened with academic Emily Pillinger guiding the audience through Ondiviela’s inspiration, the myth of Cassandra. In the ancient story, the title character is a beautiful Trojan princess. Greek god Apollo falls in love with her and bestows the gift of prophecy. But when she rejects him, she is cursed so that no one believes her predictions. War shortly follows and Cassandra is raped by a soldier and finally murdered by the wife of another soldier.
|Ancient image of the myth of Cassandra|
Pillinger explored the myth's key themes. The notion of the female body is important, as it is Cassandra's beauty which triggers her downfall. The story also looks at the brutality of war and how it changes people, as well as what happens when words fail and verbal communication is impossible.
Ondiviela's Cassandra has a more modern slant, centring on a girl experiencing psychosis. The scene being rehearsed for the insight evening was in a hospital bedroom as Cassandra's lover came to visit. Haunted by visions and possibly also medicated, she is unable to connect with him.
In the title role, Lauren Cuthbertson was constantly distracted by the voices in her head, staring at the ceiling and unable to acknowledge or seek comfort from her lover, Thomas Whitehead. “Don’t look at him, but look at the presence of something there… He’s trying to get you to reach out, but there’s a sense of absence in you,” explained Ondiviela.
Both characters had moments of clarity, but were lost amidst technique and the choreography’s mechanics in others. However, with seven weeks to go, there is plenty of time for the roles to become more fully formed and consistent.
Ondiviela then spoke in more detail about his intentions for Cassandra, alongside composer and singer Ana Silvera: “There’s a very blurred line between madness and normal behaviour,” he stated. “Madness is often just a perception of what people don’t understand. Is Cassandra driven to madness because people don’t believe her prophecies? Or do people think she’s mad because of the visions?
“I did some research by going to a psychiatric ward in Hackney, and I noticed the physicality of illness. The hospital felt more like a prison than a place of care. The effect of medication, the loss of freedom and the disconnection between body and emotion has really interested me. The dancers have also made me think deeply about what I’m trying to convey as they ask so many questions. Lauren will ask what a step means and sometimes I don’t know. It’s annoying! But it means I have to think about it more."
As well as having written the score, Silvera will be singing live onstage during the performance, representing the ancient Cassandra and her experiences. A centre point for modern Cassandra’s visions, she will act as both imaginary friend and delusion for Lauren Cuthbertson’s character.
Having seen Ondiviela’s excellent duet for Draft Works in June, it will be fascinating to watch this latest ballet in just a few weeks’ time.