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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Go West! West Side Story Suite - The National Ballet of Canada - Review

West Side Story Suite & Glass Pieces & In The Night - National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto

In my quest to become a little bit more cultured, I decided to finally go see the Ballet, having never seen it. My experience with dance is limited to a few shows I saw at the Toronto Dance Festival ffida (too modern and weird for my taste and probably many others since I think it has gone under(?)), So You Think You Can Dance (Neil!!!...............where dancers are treated like rock stars... Pasha!!!), and seeing A Chorus Line about 4 times in the last year. All good fun, but not exactly high art to the sophisticates that usually see the ballet or so I would imagine.

So in a bid to gain a new audience, the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director Karen Kain (already the most beloved dancer in Canada) chose to go the popular route and program a tribute to Jerome Robbins in three various selections giving a nice hodgepodge variety of dance to my virgin eyes and it was a great introduction into the National Ballet.

The first act was set to the love-it-or-hate-it music of Philip Glass, and while I always assume I won't like his "pretentiously modern" music, I forget that I actually don't mind it. In this case, I absolutely loved hearing it while the large company of dancers performed 3 different modern pieces that was just terrifically amusing and memorable! My favorite was the opening number which opens the stage to a white tiled back wall, harking the imagery of a subway station. Soon enough, individual dancers walk across the stage in every direction, until a moment when a single dancers dances out of the confining pattern of walking chaos, only to be joined by another. At moments, everyone on stage diverts simultaneously in the same manner before returning to their patterned walking chaos. The second piece was a beautiful and intimate ballet between two dancers but to be honest, I was more mesmerized by the line up of dancers in the background, all aligned and moving to the odd twinkling's of the Glass music. Just their walk was funny in a fascinating and amusing way and I loved the neat rhythm of the choreography.

The second act was what one would typically think of the ballet. A pair of dancers on their toes with lots of pirouette's against classical music, in this case, Chopin. Some beautiful pairings (particularly the final 3rd pairing) but there's probably a reason why SYTYCD gained popularity for setting traditional dances against popular music. The classical music just reminded me of my mother screaming at me for not practicing enough on the piano when I was a little kid.

Finally, the third act, and the one everyone had been waiting for, was a performance of various songs from West Side Story. Not only was the National Ballet of Canada performing a popular but non-traditional piece (at least in the ballet world, from what I gather), we heard the voices of the dancers for the first time (and as I gathered from those around me, that was completely new). So yes, it wasn't just a dance to the sweeping gorgeous music of West Side Story (which gave me goosebumps hearing it with a full orchestra in Toronto's new Opera house), the dancers got to sing, with some surprisingly good solos! There were also devoted singers at times, to cover one of the principled dancers song, but it was much more of a full out presentation of West Side Story than I thought it would be.

It was amusing watching ballet dancers "fight", but to hear the full power of the singing from the company of dancers (and the added singers) was simply breathtaking and a real crowd pleaser, and the dancing was just gloriously fun to watch.

Nehemiah Kish and Elena Lobsanova. Photo by Rene Johnston (Toronto Star)

The company performed:
the Prologue
Something's Coming
Dance at the Gym
Cool
America
Rumble
Somewhere Ballet
for the West Side Story Suite section.

West Side Story Suite & Glass Pieces & In The Night runs only until Nov. 18th 2007. There's a great deal for those 29 and under right now. Just sign up for DanceBreak and use the code "DanceBreak" to unlock the $20 seats (2 per person, the other person doesn't have to be 29 or under), all available on the day of (starting at midnight online or at the box office when it opens) for best available seats remaining (except Gold Level 200 seats).

Here is a Gallery slideshow of the performance. More rehearsal photos below after the jump.

Here is a video clip of 'Cool' from West Side Story Suite (Featuring Guillaume Côté who is friggin ... let's just say he could have a modelling career)

Rehearsal Photos by Bruce Zinger

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