Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who Are Those Hotties? - Dancers Edition (Theatre and Ballet Reviews)

Umoja - Elgin Theatre - Toronto, ON
An Italian Straw Hat - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON

I finally caught Umoja, the "South African Musical Hit", after what seems like their upteenth time in Toronto, and while the show is less a musical than a musical revue through the history of the music and dance of South Africa, it was definitely energetic with dancers of all sizes, and many times in some sort of state of undress. My kind of show! Plus it works perfectly with my Hottie theme for the week (here, here, and here).

There were moments when they actually seemed to try to stick a bit of a narrative in between musical numbers of African chant, South African gospel (different than the gospel you think of from the southern states), and everything in between, but they could have left the "story" out (even though I usually hate revues and prefer stories) and just kept to what the show did best, which was the amazing dancing and the chorus of magnificent voices, with a particularly strong cast of women's voices who also danced up a storm.

Still, the men, with their lower ranged voices made for great background music, and their abs were hard to miss (and even worked their way into an entire joke segment)!

Now, in an interesting, if not sadly stereotypical note on society, the audience for Umoja was mostly black, where on the other side of town, going to the The National Ballet of Canada's performance of the comedic ballet (!!!???!!!) An Italian Straw Hat was mostly in an opera house full of whites (oh sorry, Caucasian). Which is too bad because both are interesting cultural showcases for some of the best in dance, black or white (oh sorry, Caucasian).

And what a dance! Hottie principal dancer Guillaume Côté (above, alternates the role with Nehemiah Kish and Piotr Stanczyk) plays the dashing groom-to-be Ferdinand, whose horse, eats a straw hat, a hat that belonged to a married woman having an affair, whose cuckolded older husband is looking for her, and thus, Ferdinand must find a replacement hat to save the woman from being discovered, all while his own bride, her father, and the entire wedding party, follow him around Paris as he tries to find An Italian Straw Hat (choreographed by James Kudelka).

Ridiculous, yes! Madness! A total set up for lots of running (well, dancing in this case) around, doors opening and closing full of comedy of errors! A total farce! A comic affair and something I never pictured ballet could do, but the beautiful music (by Michael Torke) combined with hilariously whimsical choreography that harks to the comedy of Looney Tunes, it makes for a dance performance that is unexpectedly joyous, light and frothy!

And what dancing! What costumes and what sets (by Santo Laquato)! Sets that hark back to the paper architectural models I used to have to make in architecture school only overblown onto the giant opera stage, with boldly outlined features, that just sets the stage up perfectly for the comic ballet perfectly! (Link to a video trailer, more photos and my star rating after the jump below).

What amazes me, other than the technical dancing skills are the emotive acting coming from the dancers faces, who are able to wordlessly convey the whole story with ease. There's a reason the handsome Guillaume Côté is a star with The National Ballet of Canada, and it's a combination of his skills, good looks and the fact that he has an extreme likability that conveys from the stage (which was essentially my criticism of Danny on Season 3 of SYTYCD).

Rebekah Rimsay as the naughty maid Virginia, stood out with her hilariously duos with Piotr Stanczyk's Felix as they essentially, try to do it whenever they can as everyone else runs around then. Kevin D. Bowles is terrifically comical and limber as the cuckolded husband, and Jennifer Fournier as Clara, the jilted ex held her bitchy character to boot all just with a look in her eye, a certain strength in her steps and a flit of the wrist.

Here is a video trailer preview of An Italian Straw Hat.

The National Ballet of Canada has a great program for those 29 and under to get $20 tickets on the day of (starting at midnight on their website) under their program DanceBreak (and when asked for promo code, it's "Dancebreak" which they never seem to mention).

Both shows only run in Toronto until this Sunday, March 2nd. And on some weird irony, the ballet is co-sponsored by CTV, the television network. That's irony no?

Umoja - ***1/2 (3.5 stars out of 5)
An Italian Straw Hat - The National Ballet of Canada - ****1/2 (4.5 stars out of 5)

Here are my previous reviews from visits to The National Ballet of Canada:

West Side Story Suite & Glass Pieces & In The Night ****1/2
The Merry Widow ****

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