Ethereal and otherworldly, Sadler’s Wells’ ‘Tess’ is a hauntingly beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s classic, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. In his famously complex story, Hardy is said to have fallen in love with his tragic heroine. The story challenged societal expectations that demanded sexual purity in women, and punished any diversion from this. In Tess and the heartbreaking repercussions of her plight, spelt out the price women paid for love - and sex. You might think such a bleak tale would never lend itself to contemporary dance - and especially not circus. Hardy’s book is about power, control and love -  the vulnerability it creates, and the power it can hold over another. Could a 3-hour theatre show convey the pain and pathos of the story? But this is an instance where movement and music trump mere drama.  Dance brings something unique. It imbues the narrative with so much intuitively communicated emotion. In the charged atmosphere they create, dance company Ockham’s Razor suffuses the action with an almost mystical quality. In under three hours, their sparse and raw choreography reflects the undefinable qualities of the feminine spirit that Hardy wrote so well.

Aerial work means the dancers work vertically as well as horizontally. Their lightness of foot and ability to swivel up into the stage set reflects both the pastoral backdrop to the novel and Tess’ playful and trusting nature. When they sit 10 metres from the ground, they expose an energy in their stillness. And while we connect aerial work with circus and jollity, this production proves that it can do so much more. It gives emotional darkness a visceral, live quality - the visual spectacle adds so much to the narrative - and does it whilst challenging the status quo about what circus is. 

Truly a challenging production that demonstrates acrobatic prowess and emotional depth in equal measure.


Following the run at The Peacock, Tess is about to embark on a tour all around the UK.  Info: here.


Review: Caiti Grove    Photo: Kie Cummings