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Cassandra at the Royal Opera

In ancient mythology, Princess of Troy Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy but cursed never to be believed. She was declared mad when she warned of the imminent destruction of her city and her loved ones. Eventually Cassandra’s prophecies came true and everyone was astounded to see that they had been so accurate, but it was too late to change anything.

Former First Artist of the Royal Ballet and rising choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela returns to the Royal Opera House with his first full-length work for the company: a modernisation of this tragic ancient tale. French born Ondiviela has danced with the company for 11 years prior to retiring in 2014 to dedicate himself entirely to his choreography. His comprehension and genuine feel for dance is very evident in his choreography: each small, subtle movement communicates so much to the audience.

Along with the collaboration of singer Ana Silvera, this new rendition of Cassandra’s tale explores the modern conceptions of madness, to what point we can differentiate between sanity and insanity and society’s general rejection of anything out of the ordinary. The difficult topic of mental illness is explored in a very powerful yet sensitive manner.

Inspired by the poem ‘A Soliloquy for Cassandra’ by Wislawa Symborska, Ondiviela’s Cassandra is an ordinary young girl with a job, a boyfriend and a family who seems very content with her life until she is struck by visions of a terrible fate awaiting her brother. Despite initially being surrounded by close friends and family, Cassandra slowly finds herself to be more and more alone as her friends, boyfriend and finally even her family choose to distance themselves from her declaring her to be insane.

Cassandra is not a traditional ballet with tutus and pointe shoes: the cast are dressed in ordinary clothing and subtle, soft ballet shoes. Nor are the dances laden with typically clichéd moves, there are hardly any pirouettes or arabesques. Ondiviela’s dances are powerful; they evoke so much emotion in the audience and clearly transmit the torment of this misunderstood young girl. Cassandra’s dances alone in the mental institute and her mother’s dance of sadness following her daughter’s admission are amongst the most effective and hauntingly memorable.

Ondiviela creates the atmosphere of the situation rather than merely telling the story. The small cast of dancers are all greatly talented and their synchronisation with each other really shines through. Ondiviela’s Cassandra modernises this ancient tale and performs it in such a way that is relatable and accessible to anyone. The ballet was beautifully danced, the music was wonderfully suited and the story was left to be both tangible yet elusive. Following this riveting performance, I, for one, am greatly looking forward to following Ludovic Ondiviela’s future work.

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