Love, food, oppression, revolution. Based on Laura Esquivel’s novel The Royal Ballet’s new Like water for chocolate is a tightly woven family saga. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon weaves multiple generations and jealousies into a fast and stylish narrative, though it takes longer to reach the emotional core of his story.
Wheeldon’s great 2014 The winter fairy tale showed his talent for complex stories. Like water for chocolate reunites the same creative team. Swirling and fast-paced, Joby Talbot’s new score helps drive the galloping plot forward. In collaboration with the conductor and music advisor Alondra de la Parra, he draws on Mexican traditions without resorting to imitations. Similarly, Bob Crowley’s breezy designs are reminiscent of Mexican lace and cut paper, gloriously lit by Natasha Katz.
As the youngest daughter, the heroine Tita is not allowed to marry. She stays at home to take care of Mama Elena, her controlling mother, and lets her feelings flow into her cooking. Wheeldon finds visual motifs for both food and emotion. Cloth is stretched and kneaded like dough, a skill passed down from generation to generation. Engaged couples are tied together with ribbons in an image that is both pretty and depressing. There is a sense of freedom when the last couple is allowed to shake hands without being tied.
The dancers bring powerful weight to these moments. Francesca Hayward’s tita is overcome with horror and sadness as the bond is passed from her hand to her sister – who has permission to marry. In a fight against her daughter, Laura Morera’s mom slams Elena to the ground on either side of her: Tita imprisoned and surrounded by expelled violence.
The storytelling has impressive clarity, but these events need more room to breathe. One of Tita’s recipes is an overwhelming aphrodisiac that conjures revolutionary soldiers from under the table to escape with her sister Gertrudis. It’s a glitzy, extravagant number, but it’s no showstopper. Like Gertrudis, magnificently danced by Anna Rose O’Sullivan, the ballet wants more heat and dedication.
Wheeldon finds greater depth as the story progresses. As forbidden lovers, Hayward and Marcelino Sambé dance a duet in which they are not allowed to touch: hands grip, bodies fall in longing lines as they part in desperation. Elegant in silhouette and frightening in intensity, Morera’s mama Elena blossoms into youthfulness with delicate fluid movements in a flashback to her own unhappy love.
With a story this complicated, you risk biting off more than you can chew. always fluent, Like water for chocolate sometimes reaches for intensity. But Wheeldon’s sense of theater carries the ballet along. Its luminous sets are full of atmosphere, while a charismatic cast brings warmth to this ambitious work.
Until June 17, 2022, www. raw.org.uk
https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/culture/like-water-for-chocolate-review-royal-ballet-b2093361.html Like Water for Chocolate Review: The Royal Ballet’s dramatic saga weaves familial jealousies into a stylish narrative