Tapeworthy

Monday, June 21, 2010

That Bastard! - Onegin & Two Faced Bastard - Dance Reviews

Onegin - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Choreographed by John Cranko, Staged by Reid Anderson and Jane Bourne, Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Runs until Jun. 25th 2010


Two Faced Bastard - Chunky Move at Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Directed and choreography by Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin
Ran until Jun. 13th 2010


I caught Chunky Move's Two Faced Bastard at the beginning of LuminaTO festival and was invited to National Ballet of Canada's Onegin (with a new production design) at the end of the arts festival! Talk about some bastards!

I've seen the opera Onegin before but if you follow my blog, you know that I've TRIED and TRIED liking opera but I just can't get into it. I remember the cool stage for the show, and a duel, but the rest just seemed to drone on and on.

So thank goodness the ballet is here to erase that memory with a beautifully elegant show with some deceptively simple but layered new sets, using some purposely incorrect forced perspectives that add an intelligence and humour to the scenery of a very DRAH-MAH-TEEC show.

I'm still not sure I love all the Drah-ma in the story of Eugene Onegin, but maybe it's my adverse reaction to Russian stories (I thought it was just my aversion of Anton Chekhov, but apparently all Russian literature I've encountered onstage feels the same grayness). In theory I should find the soap opera plot, quite interesting, but something about the Russian stories always feels so heavy and depressing (which I guess is the point). Here, Eugene Onegin is a bored man in the city, so he follows his friend Lensky to the countryside to find inspiration, only to find himself bored in the country. A country girl Tatiana falls in love with him, writes him a letter professing her love, but Onegin refutes her love as a simple childish crush, breaking her heart. On top of that, Onegin purposely flirts with Lensky's fiance Olga, ensuing in a duel where Onegin kills Lensky. Tatiana realizes what a self-centered soulless creature Onegin is and moves on. Years later, Onegin becomes entranced with an elegant princess, the same Tatiana he once refuted, but now it's Tatiana's turn to refute Onegin's advances, leaving Onegin once again alone, this time not by his own volition.

Luckily, the new production, based on the famed ballet choreographer John Cranko's gorgeous and inventive choreography, brings a clean and crisp touch to the heavy drama. Cranko's choreography itself is fresh and modern and puts whimsical twists in the classical choreography. There are some amazingly delightful sequences with partnered dancers crossing the stage all in line that reminds me of Looney Tunes cartoons, and the choreography throws in some of these lighter moments to off-set the darker elements built into the story.

The new sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto (Broadway's Ragtime, Fences, National Ballet of Canada's The Italian Straw Hat) and lighting by James F. Ingalls, bring a clean and refined elegance to the piece that nicely counters the heavy drama. Using a base frame, Loquasto and Ingalls beautifully uses the lighting and drapery to change the base elements to feel like 3 different and distinct settings. The layered effects with the trunks of trees and the clever incorrect perspectives, in addition to Ingalls lighting colour palette and Loquasto's exquisitely muted coloured costumes (like a set of Japenese rice ball deserts or box of Turkish delights), manages to make the design of the show look opulent without being overdone. It's majestic without feeling ostentatious. The costumes, especially on the women, look deliciously full yet light and breezy, while the colour palette harks to the cool waning autumn season, until a bold red takes over in the final act when Tatiana gains control over Onegin.

Jiří Jelinek's is the perfect evasive and cold cad Onegin, a self-involved and condescending handsome man who knows he holds the relationship power. The show however really belongs to Xiao Nan Yu's Tatiana (above), whose final refutal to Onegin is a stupendously powerful dance of denial. Yu's performance growth, from heartbroken simple country girl to wise princess is simply dazzling.

Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden, the company's sweetheart couple, got to play Lensky and Olga (on my night, as casting rotates), the youthful Russian lovers, and anytime there's a chance to see Côté and Ogden together is a special moment. The company couldn't have scripted it any better if it tried. (Ogden will also play the role of Tatiana later this week).

Meanwhile it was great to see all the Character artists in full swing, including special guest Rex Harrington, back as Prince Gremin (who Tatiana would end up marrying).

While Principal dancers Guillaume Côté and Aleksandar Antonijevic will rotate the Onegin role, I also noticed newcomer to the company McGee Maddox also will dance the role, and it's exciting to see someone in the Corps get such a huge role, especially since I noted him earlier this season as a new dancer to definitely watch for! (I don't know the technical side of dance but I'm glad I wasn't off in my early assessment!)

While there is still something with the Russian story that I just admire but can't seem to love, I thought the ballet did a wonderful job making the story of Onegin into something still so powerful and yet enjoyable. The breathtaking new sets and designs, along with the companies powerful and emotional dancing and Cranko's inventive choreography (I guess that's why Cranko's so famous in the dance world!) manages to overcome my reservations with the story (that might have been hampered to begin with from my opera experience). The show received a lengthy and well deserved standing ovation and Yu totally killed it as Tatiana!



Australian dance company Chunky Move finally premiered their show Two Faced Bastard in Canada during the LuminaTO festival. With a very experimental spin on dance, Chunky Move wants to explore more than just movement, but how their relationship with the audience works. In Two Faced Bastard, the stage actually splits the audience into two sides, with a screen of vertical blinds splitting the stage into two separate shows, where you can hear both sides, but only seen one side of the stage, with momentary glances of the other side through the slits between the blinds.

I only managed to catch the last show, but my friend saw both sides and recommended the "funnier" side to me, where a group of dancers introduce themselves via a narrator and begin questioning what they expect from an audience, then soon enough, they disrobe and saunter to the other side to dance. Things from there begin getting more surreal with the dancers moving back and forth through the screen. An older gentleman starts interviewing the dancers while they dance on the other side, while the narrator tries to keep everything together despite dancers disappearing to the other side.

Soon it devolves into strange dances with awkward (in a cool way) jerky movements and cardboard robots (yes, robots!) and it kinds of turns into a big mess (on purpose). It sort of reminded me of a dance version of the famed Italian surrealistic play 6 Characters In Search of an Author.

The interesting modern choreography by directors Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin seemed to be a random mix of styles and inner spontaneity from the dancers themselves. Though from my side of the curtain, there didn't seem to be enough actual dancing for a dance show, with things being heavier on the humour and the "story", while my friend described the other side as heavy on the dramatic modern dancing.

When things worked in tandem and the cast reveals the other side by opening up the curtains, there's a wonderful duality and you start piecing together the meaning of the show (if there really is one) and it begins to question our expectations as an audience.

I'm not sure if the show is completely successful, but it's definitely interesting and the main concept is quite clever and used in an intelligent way (plus it keeps people coming back to see the show again!). I enjoyed the questioning of an audiences role in the play, and while I appreciate the devolvement into more experimental, and surrealistic theatre, it ultimately left me a little cold overall, despite a terrific and game cast.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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