Thursday, March 05, 2009

Standing In Ovation - Innovation - Ballet Review

Innovation - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (averaged, out of 5)

IN COLOUR - Choreographed by Peter Quanz, Original Score by Anton Lubchenko - ***
Emergence - Choreographed by Crystal Pite, Original Score by Owen Belton - *****
DEXTRIS - Choreographed by Sabrina Matthews, Music by Antonio Vivaldi - ***1/2
Runs until March 8th 2009.

Before the world premiere of three new dance works by young Canadian choreographers, there was an interesting talk in the beautiful glass atrium with 2 old white guys (I didn't catch the first few minutes so I missed their names) and they were big advocates for pushing new artists and giving guidance and chances to new young talent. Loved when the guy that looked like a cross between Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent, and also spoke with a stuffy English accent, started talking intellectually about his love for Hip Hop and how it started from an internal soul to express themselves through dance. There was something amusing about watching a stuffy looking old white British man speak so eloquently about being inspired by Hip Hop.

They also spoke about standing ovations and that we should feel free to stand up and cheer when we are moved by something (even if we are the only ones), or to feel free to remain seated if you don't, even if everyone else stands up to applaud. I often note that "happy/feelgood" shows get standing O's no matter how good or bad they are, but on more controversial or moody pieces, often people don't know how to react and remain seated, despite brilliant performances or what not. In the past two years, I've made a conscious decision to do what the two old guys said, and only give standing O's when I feel it's deserved, but I have caved and stood up a few times, usually when I'm curious to see the actors when I can't see beyond everyone standing.

It was an interesting conversation especially since it preceded an adventurous new program in the latest show for the National Ballet of Canada under artistic director Karen Kain. Three brand new commissioned works by three young Canadian artist (ages 29, 31 and 38) with two of them having brand new commissioned music to accompany the new dance pieces.

And while IN COLOUR and DEXTRIS were great showcases for the always awesome Canadian ballet company, people definitely did not hesitate to stand up and cheer for Crystal Pite's Emergence, which really showed the emergence of a brilliant choreographer who has already worked with Cullberg Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre 1, Ballett Frankfurt, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Resident Choreographer 2001 – 2004), Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Ballet British Columbia, Alberta Ballet, and Ballet Jorgen.

Emergence, the middle piece in the night's mixed program, is dark, moody and quizicle and some people won't like it, but for me, it was like a rush of artistry that whizzed by in a breathtaking and fascinating 28 minutes. The entire company of dancers became twitchy insects, buzzing and ticking across the stage and through a dark tunnel at the centre of a simple yet whirling looking set, designed by Jay Gower Taylor. With extremely dim and precise lighting (by Alan Brodie) and scantily clad dancers in simplistically gorgeous insect-influenced black costumes (by Linda Chow) and some huge ink art on the men, the ballet company never looked fiercer (or hotter!).

The company split into two camps, one of buzzing females on point flitting back and forth in wavelike formations, and the men strutting and flicking away across the stage.

In yet another moment to shine, Robert Stephens is the lone male that tries to penetrate the swarm of females and his solo is yet another stellar showcase for this emerging ballet star (and my favorite male from a strong corps).

With so many beautiful performances, Pite's new work is simply dazzling in its simplicity and athleticism with a haunting score that sounds like part modern art music and that section of the rave before the pounding and fast beats really start. The blend of ballet and modern contemporary dance, along with a vision that feels like we've entered into a microscopic world, makes Emergence a spectacularly fascinating new dance piece. While I'm still generally new to the ballet world, and haven't seen a lot of modern pieces, it felt original and inspired.

The 1st piece in the mixed-series, IN COLOUR, has a nice concept with various dancers in different colours, meshing with groups of dancers in grey, but while the moments where the large ensembles dance are great, the solos or duos seem like blander moments from other modern dance pieces.

DEXTRIS ended the night with a huge choir on stage while (on my night) Heather Ogden and Piotr Stanczyk, Sonia Rodriguez and Jonathan Renna, Stacey Shiori Minagawa and Christopher Stalzer, Tina Pereira and Kevin D. Bowles, Jillian Vanstone and James Shee and Robert Stephens dancing another mesh of ballet and contemporary choreography that mixes and matches the couples as they go through various ballet techniques. Part showcase and part reaction to the choral Vivaldi music. It's an exquisite piece, if a little underwhelming after following Pite's show, and I admired it more than I emotionally loved it, but again, it let the great dancers from the company to showcase their skills.

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

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


Keira Andrews said...

I saw the show yesterday and I agree that Emergence was spectacular. I was mesmerized and I'm sure we'll be seeing this again in a mixed programme sooner rather than later.

I enjoyed the other two pieces, but I'd say the Vivaldi was surprisingly my least favourite. The colours and set were just so dreary, and although the music and dancing was suberb, it definitely didn't move me. It just kind of ended without any cresendo.

Oh, and the man giving the ballet talk was Clement Crisp, who they said has been a dance critic for London's Financial Times for 40+ years. I quite enjoyed hearing his thoughts about hip-hop, too. :)

Michael Goldbarth said...

Hi there! Below is my review… * You may enjoy the below website:

Host Michael Crabb and ballet historian/critic Clement Crisp warmed up Early Birds with an invigorating Ballet Talk for the Thursday March 5th performance of Innovation. According to M.C. the National boasts a “kick-ass orchestra” and mixed programs usually have a safe, pleasing opening, a dangerous often not audience pleasing middle, and a show stopping finale. In the spirit of Clement Crisp’s comments that there is no right or wrong critique when it comes to a ballet connoisseur’s opinion, I’m going to write against the grain and proclaim that blonde bombshell Crystal Pite’s Emergence was the audience hit of the evening and most definitely should have been given the coveted finale position!

In Colour evoked memories of the ballet ‘Jewels’ in both movement and costume with a much more serious most melancholy tone. The score by Anton Lubchenko echoed far too much of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, which weighed down the bargain basement $ store revival of Marius Petipa variations courtesy of Peter Quanz. This ballet connoisseur possesses no idea what it was about, would be very surprised to see it return, and hence, will not waste any more prose on it.

The middle of the mixed program will most definitely re-emerge at some point in the very near future. Emergence elicited the most applause of the trio and also inspired loads of balletomane buzz between sips of wine during the intermission. From start to finish, Crystal Pite dilated and glued this balletomane’s orbs into her underworld, which was a little too dark at times (more light please)! A naked bat like creature appears to be hatched à la an alien emerging from its sea-pod à la ‘The Body Snatchers.’ Every moment thereafter you forget you’re in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts as these wicked bat-men and bat-women emerge from their cave to go about their routine chanting 1,2,3,4,5,6, and then finally 7,8,9,10,11,12…reminiscent of Leslie Feist’s impossible-to-get-out-of-my-head hit tune! For some reason, I felt strangely attracted to these hedonistic bat-women dressed skintight for sin-Evil is good when you look that good! Antonella Martinelli was especially HO double T!!

Pite exhibits a magnificent mind’s eye for theatrical tricks when the bat-men lay flat on the floor giving the impression of sticking to the ceiling of their cave from my view in Ring 3 of the mezzanine. These bat creatures appear to be blind in the early stages of their existence before being given the gift of sight and dance. As I replayed the ballet in my mind on the way home, I believed this ballerina bat colony to be somehow necessary to our human existence-In the same way mammal bats are thought of as evil even though they perform the very necessary task of ridding valuable farmland from millions of pests.

Though ‘Emergence’ might be more at home on the stage of The Princess of Wales Theatre, I loved absolutely everything about this bat-ballet from the mysterious music by Owen Belton; to the dark set design by Jay Gower Taylor; to the Halloween-esque costumes by Linda Chow; and, of course, I adored the daring muscular dance steps that emerged from the rosé champagne imagination of Crystal Pite who obviously has very little difficulty summoning and/or uncorking her Muse! BRAVO!

Gazing into my crystal ball, I see Crystal Pite as a future choreographer in residence for the National Ballet of Canada. Dance creativity such as hers must be given more opportunities to shine. It is so unfair that classical ballet, or in this case, modern-dance bat-ballet is such an ephemeral art. This mind’s eye inspiration deserves to be preserved for eternity onto DVD. You will see Emergence performed by the NBoC again-Perhaps as early as this June for the Mad Hot Ballet Gala or as part of a Halloween Masked Ball.

Onto the dull but pleasing to the eye and ear finale: Dextris. The music of Antonio Vivaldi transported me back in time to a Viennese royal court where the nouveau riche would surface to enjoy choir music accompanied by romantic dance. The singing was glorious and the dance, especially by Heather Ogden, was lovely. Unfortunately, the choir was very visible on the stage standing atop ghastly looking pigskin bleachers! It may have worked had they covered the bleachers to better blend in with the scenery and made smarter costume ‘colour’ choices for both dancers and singers. This was most disappointing for those looking forward to seeing round III of Sabrina Matthews at the 4 Seasons. Despite the mixed reviews, I recommend you catch this mixed fare-If only to see the middle!

jlee said...

I wish I had seen this! The last still looks like it was amazing.