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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Non-Ugly Duckling - Swan Lake - Ballet Review

Swan Lake - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (Average Out of 5 Stars)
Choreography by James Kudelka, Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Runs until Mar. 21st 2010

Well, I think I've figured out that I generally prefer the modern, weird, abstract stuff over the frou frou classical ballets, but if I'm gonna have to watch a classical ballet, I hope James Kudelka is choreographing it. My previous faves were An Italian Straw Hat and Cinderella, both that inserted a lot of humour and didn't feel stuffy in its choreography. Both which I've now realized were directed by James Kudelka.

The National Ballet of Canada is currently remounting James Kudelka's 1999 version of Swan Lake, a "new radical" interpretation especially by ballet standards. It's still the classical ballet to Tchaikovsky's famous score, but Kudelka's choreography is both traditional (think tutu's and all) but can feel a bit more modern and fresh in its movements. At times, if you took away the fancy costumes and sets and removed the music, and replaced it with black tights and mood lighting, Kudelka's Swan Lake could be more like those modern shorts I love so much.

I love the moments especially when the company of dancers move in what looks like random chaos, yet still seems to have a pattern to it all, thus giving a sense of comforting asymmetry. There's a sense of balance despite Kudelka's avoidance of having the dancers stay in perfect unison, and it keeps the show interesting.

Because to be honest, having never seen Swan Lake, much like many other famous works that I've only finally recently actually seen, the story is strangely disappointing. Much like musicals South Pacific, Oklahoma or the all famous ballet The Nutcracker, I came out of Swan Lake scratching my head at the story and going... "that's it?". Again, I know it's a classic, but really, it's basically about bestiality? Lol. Who knew? I thought it was about swans in love, I didn't realize it was about a Prince who gets tricked into falling in love with a Swan, then accidentally chooses the wrong swan to marry, only to accused of betrayal at the end. WEIRD!

But you know, Swan Lake is a classic! And for that, we have Tchaikovsky's glorious music to thank, and the fact that the tutu actually resembles a swan so the fluttering of the ballerina's arms as they walk across onstage on point gives a peaceful and beautiful image and THAT'S why it's a classic, and The National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake delivers on giving us all the beautiful imagery we expect from Swan Lake.

Of course, it helped that last nights opening night had the company's own Hollywoodish star couple Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté (both above) play the lead Swan Odette/Odile and her Prince Siegfried (roles are rotated amongst the dancers). Seriously, no one could have scripted a better story than having the companies two young and beautiful Principal dancers fall in love, so it's kind of magical to watch them dance the leads here.

I forgot to mention it in my interview with the crushworthy Rebekah Rimsay that while she excels in fully embodying the characters she's given, it's not just a facial acting thing. Her whole BODY becomes the character and you know exactly who she's playing and what her purpose is even if you're sitting at the back of the theatre. Here, she plays The Wench who along with the Fool (the always reliable Keiichi Hirachi), try to entertain the bored Prince in Act 1 and Rimsay as usual, is absolutely delightful and brings a humour to the role as she's thrown around by all the men!

It's always nice to see Noah Long get another major role (as Rothbart, the mysterious interloper that sets things in action) as he seems to be growing into a terrific lead. Brett van Sickle (as Benno, Siegfried's friend) dances handsomely as usual.

And again, while the ensemble of male dancers had usual strong guys, I noticed a couple of this seasons newcomers, most especially again McGee Maddox, who seems to have a lumbering football body, yet is so smooth and graceful that when he lands so softly onto the ground after every jump, it seems like he's defying gravity a bit. Ryan Booth and Nan Wang seemed excellent too (there were more but I still haven't exactly figured out names to faces quite yet).

Amongst the women, especially in Act 2, where the white swans emerge (and the image of what Swan Lake is probably for most people), I kept noticing Andreea Olteanu again. Possibly because of her darker olive-toned skin, but she has a very fierce and sharp aura in her dancing, and moves in a very regal way, as if she was some sort of Countess and it's quite lovely.

All the princesses (that Siegfried must choose from to marry, in a scene that seems like a ballet standard, doesn't it?) were terrific, with Tanya Howard's Spanish Princess especially amusing in her subtle comedic moments.

But there are so many beautiful ballerina's in their frilly tutus that I couldn't quite figure out who was who but since it's all about the image of the swans as a whole, and the tragic story of Siegfried, Swan Lake, while not technically my thing, still managed to present a classic ballet in a fascinating and beautiful fashion.


Here are previous ballet reviews:
24 Preludes by Chopin & A Suite of Dances & The Four Seasons **** - 24 Preludes by Chopin ****1/2, A Suite of Dances ***1/2, The Four Seasons ****
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 ****
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