Rodin/Claudel - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens

Slowly getting caught up on all of my March Theatrical adventures here on the blog. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet offered this beautiful piece from choreographer Peter Quanz and danced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal as an "extra" for their season, and I jumped at the chance. I'm a huge fan of Quanz and was eager for the chance to see a full length work from the choreographer.

Based on the lives of French sculptors Rodin and Claudel, the piece utilized the corps  as molding clay, moving them into varying shapes and locations reminiscent of the sculptures by each artist. The sculptures, however, also had the quality of being all-seeing - they bore witness to both the successes and failures of each artist, and ultimately passed judgment when Claudel was committed.

The opening moments of the story were a touch unclear; what was actually a brotherly relationship came across as a potential lover, and the story was perhaps a bit muddy as a result of too many characters in the first group scene. That said, the very opening was absolutely stunning, and the use of space, with living backgrounds observing the actions of the two protagonists was fantastic, and the story became more clear as it focused on the pair.

Beautiful work - see it if you ever get the chance!

Romeo & Juliet - Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet

I am fairly certain that the last time I had the pleasure of seeing Rudi vanDantzig's stunning R&J was as a fairly small child at some point in the mid 90's. So it was with great joy that I shared the RWB's production with my young daughter during this season, after preparing her with a "coles notes" of the story. The company shows off well in this piece which features stunning group scenes performed with fantastic unison and emphasized by Prokofiev's alternatingly angry and soothing score. And the leads acquitted themselves beautifully; Yosuke Mino's playful Mercutio danced the riddles of the text, while former company members such as Tara Birthwistle and Johnny Xiang playing the parents. These all highlighted the strength of young Elisabeth Lamont who made her debut as Juliet during this production. Lamont's artistry was outstanding - she clearly thought through each moment of the story in beautiful detail, showing us Juliet's joy and heartbreak. This was probably one of the few times I've been emotionally moved by this story in years, having studied it so technically and intensively to creative ends. 

To be on balance, if the RWB are to re-mount this ballet again they may want to consider an update to the set which at times felt a bit worse for wear. It was complemented nicely by stunning lighting design and lavish costumes, however. 

Q Dance presented by Royal Winnipeg Ballet at Gas Station Arts Centre

I sometimes wonder whether audiences truly realize the extreme caliber of creativity in this city. Peter Quanz' young company - Q Dance - is celebrating its first season to be presented by the RWB as part of the regular subscription. The performances this week included two of Quanz' well known pieces - Quantz by Quanz created for the Banff Arts Centre, and the ingenious Double Bounce, along with the World Premiere of his new story ballet, Murder Afoot.

Quantz by Quanz is a beautiful piece with quickly changing shapes. The challenging choreography is clearly influenced by George Balanchine in its many extensions and juxtaposed angles. The strength of the dancers shines in this piece, with Sofia Lee and Liang Xing dancing the lead roles, and a very strong ensemble supporting them. In this piece, an earlier one of Quanz, we see primarily a classical vocabulary, but the beginnings of the bending, asymetrical shapes which characterize his later work.

The second piece, danced by an enigmatic Beth Lamont with Stephan Possin, is centred around a playful idea - what if the tutu's edge were maleable, to be re-shaped every time the dancers come in contact? Lamont sparkes, and breezes through the choreography which showcases more of the Quanz obsession with unusual shapes. Possin however struggled with the challenging work - one can see quickly that the piece was choreographed on the dynamic and nearly superhuman Yosuke Mino.

The final piece, Murder Afoot, really allows Quanz sense of humour to sparkle, while using the most provocative movement vocabulary of the three pieces. Essentially created for 7 soloists, with only minimal ensemble dancing, the piece incorporated fantastic lighting and video design by Hugh Conacher, including a live feed from other parts of the theatre. Truly pushing its way into dance theatre, Quanz and Conacher's collective vision is unlike any other narrative ballet you've seen. Its sense of the theatrical was undeniable. I would have liked to see even more interplay - the moments where the video seemed to comment on the stage action had a fantastic Brechtian quality, and the piece would have been even more outstanding with this.

Overall this was a fantastic programme which not only showcased the incredible dancers, but the emerging genius that is Peter Quanz.

Taking Things Apart

I had the unique opportunity yesterday to be in the audience for a filming of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's acclaimed Moulin Rouge, choreographed by Jordan Morris. The project will be  broadcast to cineplex theatres around the world, and is a really monumental occasion for the nearly 75 year old company, home to many brilliant dancers.

What was really exciting for me was the process; having trained in dance myself, I am most engaged with the work of the dancer, and the effort made to make it appear effortless. Due to filming, the ballet was shot out of sequence (as it is easier to situate cameras and costumes for filming this way) which had an unusual effect. What it brought out was a reminder of the work that goes into performing a ballet of this magnitude. Occasionally while waiting for technical setup, the dancers would wait on stage, stretching or reviewing their choreography - things that always happen, but typically are hidden from the audience to maintain the illusion of perfection. As well, the movement of sets and testing of lights throughout was unintentionally performative, and highly engaging.

It was just as much an experience of dance performance as it was an experience of the structure and production of dance performance - something ballet of all modern art forms has the tendency to hide. The result was the most Brechtian dance performance you could imagine. Verfremmdungseffekt is generally the antithesis of classical ballet - whose very aim is to transport you along with the story - however in this instance the distancing, the objective observation of the behaviour, was truly possible. A moment when Zeigler pulls a pistol on the young lovers, then proceeds with a dance of seductive pas de deux with Natalie, gun still in hand, was haunting in a way it couldn't have been had we been caught up in her story. As well, the masochism of ballet rang loud and clear (perhaps ironically for a company which recently dismissed a student for appearance in a porn) with the fact that the goal of all female characters was valuation and redemption in the eyes of a male character.

I'm very excited to see the piece "Put together" as it were, in the intended order, as it will be a very different experience of the ballet.

Review - Twyla Tharp's The Princess And The Goblin - Royal Winnipeg Ballet

You know a performance is really enjoyable, when you suddenly realize you have been sitting with a huge grin on your face for an unknown amount of time. This is how I found myself about 30 minutes in to Twyla Tharp's new ballet The Princess And The Goblin, performed by the RWB with Guest Artist Paloma Hererra. The piece begins with a fairly classical look - king father, princess daughters, classical movement vocabulary - and as the story twists and turns, the movement also twists and turns, until the Goblins are moving in a very contemporary manner. There are even touches of break dance in some areas. The blurring of style is what one would expect from Twyla Tharp, and this piece did not disappoint in any way.

One of my favourite things was the dance-fight choreography, which was highly stylized, and almost looked like Brazillian Capoeira. The humour and fun in the movement, along with the more dark and serious notes were fabulous.

The sets and lighting were beautifully simple, with many lovely diversions coming down from the ceiling to populate the same space as the dancers. One highlight was the use of shadow to create a music box style image - this section was absolutely captivating.

Paloma Hererra - her mischevious grin filled the stage, and every movement she made was outstanding. I am honoured to be able to see this living legend dance.

Yayoi Ezawa - an RWB favourite, Yayoi really shone, particularly in her moments opposite Hererra as the grandmother.

Sophia Lee - This girl is a star. Her turn as the Queen of the Goblins was a fantastic performance, and a highlight.

Yosuke Mino - I could watch him jump for days and days, and his strengths really came through in Tharp's choreography.

Please see this if you can! It isn't every day that Twyla Tharp has a new piece performing in your city, nor that you get to see it performed by this calibre of dancers.

Review - Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Royal Opera Ballet

There are certain companies you grow up in awe of. For the most part, this awe fades as you get older, learn more about your craft, and see more work. The Royal Ballet, home-base of two of my favourite dancers in history (Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn) was one of those companies I was in awe of, and finally this week I had the chance to see them live. The awe has not faded in the least. This production, a re-mount of their 2011 world premiere, was every bit of brilliant dancing, amazing costumes and clever set design that I had grown up expecting to see at the Royal Opera Ballet.

The choreography, unlike many new full-length ballets, uses a significant amount of classical ballet language, with the majority of female roles en pointe. This was refreshing, as we have come to see a lot of character-shoe or bare-footed ballerinas after the contemporary dance waves of the 70s and 80s. Wheeldon spins a beautiful story, hearkening back to the original Lewis Carrol book, one spinning through confusion, illogical associations, and silliness. Some specific choices stood out; Alice's free-spirited and youthful movement carried through the piece, while the Queen of Hearts is shaped as a prima-ballerina past per prime, in full egotistical glory. The most genius stroke, however, was to make the Mad Hatter a tap dancer; Wheeldon's choreography allows the Mad Hatter's tapping to underscore the emotion in each moment, his steps mirroring the ballet ones, but adding sounds throughout, all of which was beautifully executed.

Overall, an amazing night-of-a-lifetime.

Review: Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Sadler's Wells Theatre

How do I even begin to describe this? Bourne's imagination is unparalleled, taking the well-known story of the Nutcracker, and twisting out a playful perspective. The nods to classical ballet throughout were wonderful, with little details such as the bratty brother/sister's exaggerated toe-first turned out walk, to the arabian dancer's final pose, however Bourne twists these and "shakes them up" for the audience. As well, his references to pop-culture were overflowing; one couldn't help but think of Marilyn Monroe's rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend when watching the young heroine with her nutcracker and gaggle of topless men, or of boy bands when watching his russian dancers. What I found most remarkable about this was his ability to push the boundaries, to squeeze out the underlying themes in the story and magnify them for us to see, while still creating a story that was extremely watchable and enjoyable.

With some trepidation, I took my 7 year old daughter and husband to this show. My daughter has seen quite a bit of ballet for her age, but never The Nutcracker, despite being very familiar with the story and Tchaikovsky's score. My husband has seen only a little ballet, and again, never a Nutcracker. Both loved it! They had a lot of fun with the story, and the fabulous set and lighting design had an impact on the audience, even from up in the second circle.

I am SO unendingly happy to have been able to see this show, and share it with my family. More Bourne for all!!