Thursday, March 24, 2011

TO Russia With Love - Russian Seasons - Ballet Review

Theme and Variations & Apollo & Russian Seasons - National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Until Mar. 27 2011

Theme and Variations - ***1/2
Choreographed by George Balanchine, Staged by Lindsay Fischer, Music by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
Apollo - ***1/2
Choreographed by George Balanchine, Staged by Ib Andersen, Music by Igor Stravinsky
Russian Seasons - ****1/2
Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, Staged by Tatiana Ratmanskaya, Music Leonid Desyatnikov

There's a moment in the middle of the Canaidian premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's exquisite modern folk piece Russian Seasons when National Ballet of Canada's veteran Principal dancer Aleksandar Antonijevic, current star Principal Guillaume Côté, and future-star-in-the-making McGee Maddox are dancing with a glowing Principal star dancer Heather Ogden, and seeing them together dancing the pure magic of Ratmansky's choreography brings dance to its full combination potential.

With a stark stage some dim lighting, streaks of bold colours flash across the stage as 6 pairs of dancers outfitted in simple plain-cut outfits of 6 bold colours, dance a cross of contemporary emo-styled dancing that hints of a traditional Russian folkiness that surprisingly manages to keep Russian Seasons both forward thinking and nostalgic to a Russia that Chekhov so famously wrote about. Ratmansky's choreography is both technically complex and daringly simple, and with music (by Leonid Desyatnikov), we can start imagining the etchings of 12 different people and their daily livings in life in Russia, or anywhere in the world for that matter. (It will be exciting to see what Ratmansky comes up with for a newly commissioned Romeo & Juliet for The National Ballet of Canada's 2011/12 season)

Xiao Nan Yu (not pictured here) is stunning and devastating as a desperate and pained woman in red. Robert Stephens and Christopher Stalzer are delightful as friends who eventually find their colour pairings. Jenna Savella, Jillian Vanstone, and Elena Lobsanova are superb as always. Ogden loses her usual princess crown (which she later adorns again for Theme & Variation) and grounds herself to the dance piece, truly giving herself to Ratmansky's choreography which brings a warmth to her woman in green. Greta Hodgkinson brings a precision to Ramansky's mix of modern and folk that can be easily muddled.

Russian Seasons is such an exciting dance piece that manages to be thrilling without any tricks or gimmicks, and strangely pulls an emotional response despite it's simple colour coded simplicity. It was also nice to see the company display some of its top talents from all levels of the company, and I only wish I could see the alternate cast dance this piece (with fantastic dancers like Bridgett Zehr, Jordana Daumec, Tanya Howard, Ryan Booth, and Dylan Tedaldi performing the piece on alternate nights).

The evening of Russian shorts is bookended by two Balanchine shorts. Now Balanchine, probably the definition of what a typical thinks of when they think "ballet", is actually not one of my favorites when it comes to ballet. When you think of the big set pieces, big stories, and big tutu numbers, the most famously performed are more likely to conjure an image of what something Balanchine might do. And while his shorts still run a tad too long (they probably would have felt more effective if each were about 5-10 min. shorter), the level of technical skills and artistry were clearly on display in Apollo and Theme and Variation and something that must be at least admired.

Piotr Stancyk (who was such a great character 2nd Soloist and has been nicely promoted) took on the role of Apollo in one of Balanchine's more modern works. The intricacies of the choreography, that required his three muses (I believe were Sonia Rodriguez, Jillian Vanstone and Elena Lobsanova) to at one point, chain themselves together while they continuously circled each other, is simply stunning in its beauty and difficulty.

In Theme and Variation, Ogden returns in princess tutu mode and delivers a stunningly regal performance as the rest of the company, decked out in tutus, keeps up the pace behind her. Stancyk again, takes on the male role, and again, wonderfully displays the demands of Balanchine's traditional ballet movements.

Russian Season photos from the San Francisco Ballet by Erik Thomasson.
Apollo photos are of Guillaume Côté, Heather Ogden, Rebekah Rimsay and Xiao Nan Yu, by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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