By Farah Nayeri
28 February 2020
LONDON — The stirring sounds of Elgar’s Cello Concerto rise from the orchestra pit in an opening scene of a new production by the Royal Ballet, “The Cellist.” The ballerina in the title role settles into position with her instrument: a male dancer, dressed in brown tones. She grips his upstretched arm as if it were the neck of a cello and makes sweeping gestures across his back, as if moving a bow.
This rapturous musical union is suddenly interrupted, as the cellist collapses onstage, then rubs her hands, trying to chase away the numbness. Soon, her hands begin to quiver intermittently, as do her legs. Playing the instrument becomes impossible. Her human cello tries to revive her musical powers, as does her husband, who has been conducting from a nearby podium. They wrap themselves around her in a desperate embrace. But her musical career is permanently over.
Choreographed by Cathy Marston for the Royal Ballet, “The Cellist” tells the story of two highly gifted musicians: the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, considered one of the instrument’s finest musicians, and her husband, the star conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim.
The two met in London in 1966 and married the next year, performing and recording together nonstop and forming one of the most memorable couples in classical music.
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