Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Short Programs - Zisele and Carmen & Skin Divers - Stage Reviews

Zisele - Tel Aviv's Beit Lessin Theatre at the Jane Mallett Theatre - St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5)
Directed and Choreographed by Moria Zrachia
Carmen & Skin Divers - National Ballet of Canada - The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5)
Skin Divers - ***1/2
Choreographed by Dominique Dumais
Carmen - ***
Choreographed by Davide Bombana
Both shows run until June 14th 2009

Never underestimate the short guy. Robert Stephen (above), one of my favorite ballet dancers in the corps of the National Ballet of Canada, continues to defy his shorter stature with another eye grabbing performance in Skin Divers, a piece that is quite a nice piece to show off the company of strong dancers, but lacks the overall emotional momentum needed for such an artistic modern piece (set to a poem by Anne Michaels, which, along with the projections of naked bodies, sort of adds to the pretentiousness of it all. Groan). Between Stephen and my other favorite dancer Rebekah Rimsay (back from maternity! Already? And looking fab! LOVE HER!) who performed the piece on my day (cast rotates performances), I still really enjoyed the piece as yet another star discovering performance by Stephen's who seems to be given a LOT of solos or lead parts (he also rotates in one of the leads in Carmen on alternate performances) given he's still in the corps. So yes, he really CAN dance and I'm glad the company is noticing the ease and fluidity he makes it all look.

Meanwhile, Matan Zrachia (above, centre in the back) is the lone guy in a cast full of mother and daughter characters in Zisele and he's short and stocky and bald. And with his rimmed glasses and child clothes, definitely plays up a nerdy boy son to a bossy Jewish mother in the delightfully amusing and comic dance play from the Beit Lessin Theatre in Tel Aviv. But once Matan starts moving, the huge calves and stocky body seems to melt away and his movements are sharp and eloquent, all while never losing the clownish spirit of the piece.

Zisele is a delightful, if short and simple theatre piece that is not really a play, it's not a musical since they don't sing the music, and not just a dance piece, but sort of a little of it all. Brought to Toronto from Tel Aviv's Beit Lessin Theatre for the Luminato festival, the play, while short (clocking in under an hour), is sweet (if slightly overpriced though, but they did come all the way from Isreal and plane tickets aren't cheap, so I'll give them that), looking at Yiddish mothers and their daughters back during the Pleasantville days of the 1960's Isreal when mothers still cooked in the kitchen and bossed around their daughters (and in one case, the twin son) while the children are sort of bred to perform for the audience.

There are so many funny moments in the wonderful dancing and mime sequences, all set to a series of old Yiddish music (that adds to the fun (though I'm guessing I missed any subtext it may have had since I didn't understand anything)). Very few words are actually spoken (though it is spoken in English) but most of it is spoken by Matan's son character who even nails the character down with his voice. Now the cast is a delight, and there are some standouts, but sadly the program doesn't really identify who is who, so all the women get jumbled onto one list, but the mother of the twins, the daughter who kept getting her mouth stuffed were just two from a great cast members who stood out. But while I don't want to single out and praise the sole male in the ensemble, Matan Zrachia really stands out with his nicely balanced comic movements and superb (and surprising) dancing skills all with an adorableness that truly evoked a growing boy hitting his Bar Mitzvah while fighting with his twin sister under watchful eyes of their overbearing mother.

So while I loved seeing Robert Stephen and Rebekah Rimsay (as well as Jonathan Renna whom I'm really starting to take notice, and Andreea Olteanu who always grabs my attention) in Skin Divers, it's attempt at being provocative (read, nearly naked. Oh yay!) and emotionally metaphorically layering (literally, with screens and projections as the set), it ultimately fails to cohesively bind all the ideas together.

But while it's not a brilliant dance piece, it still has enough physical attributes to showcase the talented dance company that I still enjoyed its lofty ambitions.

This is the North American premiere of a new choreographed piece to Carmen, Bizet's famed anthem. But considering what a great piece of theatre and music the name "Carmen" evokes, I felt underwhelmed again by the choreography, despite the dancers grand attempts at infusing the piece with emotion and power. The pictures here show Noah Long (also another up and comer in the company) with principal dancer and ballet star Heather Ogden, but I saw Bridgett Zehr and Aleksandar Antonijevic in the leads, along with Christopher Stalzer who is terrific as Garcia and Stephanie Hutchison as Michaela, a role way too small and insignificant (made by the choreography) for someone of Hutchison's talents.

Antonijevic was far more passionate than the last time I saw him, and was wonderful here with what he was given, but I found the piece overall to be kind of boring and lacking any significant drama and was only saved by the beautifully simplistic modern lighting and set and a funny twist with the men dancing in full Spanish women's garb.

Zehr danced wonderfully but unfortunately, my sister made a comment to me before the show, about Zehr looking like she was anorexic (and that's already by thin ballet dancer standards) and I couldn't get it out of my mind while I was watching her, so I'm sure she was fabulously dramatic but I almost panicked that she might break into pieces before our eyes.

Overall, it wasn't my favorite program from the National Ballet of Canada but I give it points for being ambitious and at least they seem to be nurturing a set of great young and new dancers to their company (especially now that Guillaume and Nehemiah seem to be disappearing and as Goh retired).

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

1 comment:

Keira Andrews said...

I actually saw Guillaume in Giselle a few weeks ago. He was incredible, as always. Since Nehemiah has abandoned us for Denmark (curse you, Royal Danish Ballet!), Guillaume had better not be going anywhere.

Skin Divers didn't wow me (dancers were great, but the pretentious performance art aspect left me cold) but I really enjoyed Carmen. I saw Heather Ogden and she was phenomenal. Seriously amazing!

Robert Stephen was Garcia and he was fantastic. I'm thrilled to see he was promoted to second soloist! Lots of promotions this year:


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