The Most Incredible Thing, Sadler’s Wells

My ticket!

 Once upon a time, there were hundreds and hundreds of fairytales. Some of them were about heroic princes and their damsels in distress, and some were about horrible monsters and magical fairies. But only one was about a magical clock and an idea bigger than a pretty dress or dashing good looks. Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Most Incredible Thing, is finally getting told through the beautiful art of modern dance, with the Pet Shop Boys’ new ballet that premiered at Sadler’s Wells this past March.

The workers in the opening scene

As the lights came up on stage, two lines of workers ran down both sides of a long table, all dancing in flawless robotic movements that rippled through like a wave. Choreographer Javier De Frutos did an amazing job interpreting this fairytale kingdom into movements and pirouettes. Even through the very first number, it was clear that this ballet became more than just the one page fairytale it represented: the kingdom was made of paper, fragile and breakable, with the people oppressed and unhappy—very 1984. But perhaps the unhappiest of all was the Princess, danced by the adorable Clemmie Sveaas, whose hand in marriage in addition to half the kingdom was offered up by her father in his search for the most incredible thing. In the first act, the pair danced a heartbreaking duet atop a table, where it was clear that the king was a father too, but he still did nothing to help his daughter, even as she whispered, “Help me,” to the audience.

God with his 10 Commandments inside the clock

This search for the most incredible thing was facilitated by a contemporary kind of talent show, but even at the end of the first act, there were still no viable candidates. The most incredible thing had already been created by a young artist named Leo, played by Aaron Sillis, who was inspired, just as the audience was, by a dance with three beautiful muses in white. The second act of the ballet was the marvelous exhibition of Leo’s most incredible thing: a clock that held the whole world inside it, past, present, and future. Images and film footage on a center circle screen were combined with costumed dancers to prove the clock incredible—inside was nature, god with his ten commandments, the essence of music, the birth of technology, and life itself, represented by the heartbeat and images of an ultrasound. And even though the clock literally came to life on stage, it was clear that these dances were not as polished and refined as those at the beginning and end of the ballet—the only time during the performance where any sort of imperfection could be found.

Just like any other fairytale, this story has a bad guy and this ones name is Karl, danced by the former Royal Ballet Principal, Ivan Putrov. Putrov clearly had a different style of dancing from the others on stage, more classical and less willing to relax and give into the moment. Although this may have made him less fun to watch, every turn and every movement was impeccable. Karl, in classic bad guy fashion destroys this incredible clock, which supposedly makes him the most incredible instead. A very chauvinistic wedding dance follows; the line of women bow and bend to the will of the men, as deep red lights create a hellish glow behind them. But as it could have been guessed, the story ends happily and the muses return as the clock reassembles itself, deservedly destroying Karl as order and happiness is restored.

The adorable Clemmie Sveaas

The entire production was just a mere glimpse at what can happen to the world of dance when combined with all the modern media that’s now available. The contemporary, beat-enthralled music of the Pet Shop Boys, striking film clips by Tal Rosner, and a live orchestra conduced by Dominic Wheeler, all morphed into one breathtaking artistic conglomerate that restored new life in an archaic fairytale, which may be the most incredible thing of all. It’s a shame the Princess is already married.

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