Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Bare Necessities of Life - 24 Preludes by Chopin - Ballet Review

24 Preludes by Chopin & A Suite of Dances & The Four Seasons - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (Average Out of 5 Stars)
24 Preludes by Chopin - ****1/2
Choreographed by Marie Chouinard, Staged by Martha Carter, Music by Frédéric Chopin
A Suite of Dances - ***1/2
Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, Staged, by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Music by Johann Sebastian Bach
The Four Seasons - ****
Choreography by James Kudelka, Music by Antonio Vivaldi
Runs until Mar. 7th 2010

While I don't believe I fall under USA's FTC regulations that requires bloggers to disclose freebies, I figure I'll be upfront and mention that thanks to the National Ballet of Canada, I got to see this show free as media (YAY!), and while I've become a HUGE new fan of ballet and want to champion them, I won't let that stop me from giving them a bad review.

That said, luckily, I won't have to this time.

Now, again, if you don't know my drill, I'm not a dance expert, I'm not a journalist, I'm just a big entertainment fan that loves watching LOTS of TV, Movies and Theatre and up until a few years ago, the most I knew about dance came from musicals or So You Think You Can Dance. But since I've given ballet a try, I've discovered that I actually love it and figure, many of you might too.

Artistic Director Karen Kain must be listening to the audience responses too since she's programmed the return of several popular ballet shorts that all happen to be my favorites I named in the Best Theatre of the Decade, with Emergence, Glass Shorts, West Side Story Suites and 24 Preludes by Chopin all returning this season or next.

Seeing 24 Preludes by Chopin again was fascinating, and not just because we got to see the beautiful artistry and athleticism displayed by the company, but because the modern and weird piece took on a whole different meaning to me this time, which is the beauty of Marie Chouinard's exquisite choreography. I still have no idea what it's really about, but the last time I saw it, it seemed cryptically sexy, especially with those costumes that seem straight out of a Brooklyn Hipsters bondage party, and by pairing it previously to the Rock and Roll ballet Rooster (set to Rolling Stones music), the punk rock sexual tensions within 24 Preludes by Chopin were enhanced and highlighted.

This time around I saw the piece in a completely non-sexual way, despite the skin-loving outfits, and instead, the dancers seemed more like people stripping away the adult layers we hide under and discovering the world through the simpler unclouded views, almost in childlike ways. The quirky movements and awkward choreography seemed to mirror those moments when children react to new situations, whether it's when the group of dancers play around with a ball, or run around in a chaotic playground, or nervously try to speak out against the mass conformity of the group. There's a raw tenderness revealed along with all the skin and while the dance and movements are still very strange, it strangely becomes a very moving dance. By pairing 24 Preludes this time with The Four Seasons and A Suite of Dances, it shifts the dance over to the broader night's theme of man discovering itself through the growth of life (via famous classical music).

It's a magical and haunting piece no matter how you interpret Chouinard's intricate choreography and Vandal and Jacques-Lee Pelletier's Costume and Make-up Design. The company does an excellent job and of special note, guest dancer (and normally choreographer) Matjash Mrozewski had some beautiful moments (and it's too bad he doesn't dance more often, despite his successful choreography career).

In A Suite of Dances, a man (Zdenek Konvalina on my night playing the role in rotation with Guillaume Côté) does a solo dance to Bach. A beautifully simple piece by the legendary Jerome Robbins that is sort of one man's discovery of his own movements and abilities. Except I'm really not into long solos. But for a solo, this has a playfulness that is wonderfully performed in the right spirit here by Konvalina, and almost moves beyond a solo by pairing him with an on-stage Cellist (Winona Zelenka) who sort of becomes the dancers partner in crime.

The Four Seasons continues on this path of human discovery as it follows another man (Aleksandar Antonijevic on my night, shown here with Greta Hodgkinson) as he dances with the different seasons of his life from a youthful spring to a cold death in winter, all to Vivaldi's famous The Four Seasons. James Kudelka's choreography always has a very traditional feel to it without being heavy and "old", and his The Four Seasons feels light, fresh and modern, despite the traditional ballet moves and techniques.

The story is epic but the presentation strips it down to the core essentials, with a changing projected backdrop as the Man meets the elements of life during the changing seasons of Spring (Jillian Vanstone), Summer (Sonia Rodriguez), Fall (Rebekah Rimsay) and Winter (Principal Character Artist Victoria Bertram). Aleksandar Antonijevic has a particular sensual chemistry with Sonia Rodriguez in the red hot Summer season, and despite a minor slipup, Rodriguez simmers throughout the sequence. Rimsay, so natural at breathing full characters into all her roles, is perfectly cast to give a deeper heaviness to Fall. It was great to see the more seasoned Principal Character Artists dance during the Winter sequence. Noah Long is a particular standout from the terrific ensemble and it's nice to see him really grow into a wonderful leading dancer.

The entire evening of the three ballet shorts becomes much more contemplative than some recent mixed program evenings. While it was less visceral and gimmicky, the night really searches deeper into our human existence.

Above: Tonya Howard as Summer

Don't forget DanceBreak members (free to sign up) aged 16 to 29 can purchase $25 tickets on the day of the performance (starting at midnight online)(depending on availability)! Visit DanceBreak.ca.

Sleeping Beauty ***
The Four Temperaments & Watch Her & Glass Pieces **** - The Four Temperaments ***, Watch Her ****1/2, Glass Pieces *****
Carmen & Skin Divers ***1/2 - Carmen ***, Skin Divers ***1/2
Romeo & Juliet ***
Innovation ***1/2 - IN COLOUR ***, Emergence *****, DEXTRIS ***1/2
In The Upper Room & Symphony in C & Polyphonia ***1/2
The Fiddle and The Drum & Etudes & the second detail & Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan ****
Cinderella ****
Rooster & Soldiers' Mass & 24 Preludes by Chopin ****
An Italian Straw Hat ****1/2
West Side Story Suite & Glass Pieces & In The Night ****1/2
The Merry Widow ****
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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