Friday, November 27, 2009

So They Can Dance - Sleeping Beauty and Glass Pieces & Shorts - Ballet Reviews

Sleeping Beauty - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - *** (Out of 5)
Produced, originally staged and with additional choreography by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Staged by Karen Kain, Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Ran from Nov. 13-22 2009

The Four Temperaments & Watch Her & Glass Pieces - The National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (Out of 5)
The Four Temperaments - ***
Choreographed by George Balanchine, Staged by Joysanne Sidimus, Music by Paul Hindemith
Watch Her - ****1/2
Choreographed by Aszure Barton, Music by Lera Auerbach
Glass Pieces - *****
Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Music by Philip Glass
Ran from Nov. 25-29 2009

After having discovered my love of the ballet after giving it a try because of So You Think You Can Dance, I've been slowly figuring out exactly what kind of ballet I love and don't. Because much to most people's misunderstanding, ballet is not just tutu's and stuff like that, but instead can be a visceral emotionally exciting art form (like the new Aszure Barton short Watch Her (above) or the Jerome Robbins classic Glass Pieces (below))

Or they can be big crowd pleasing costumed extravagant showpieces like Sleeping Beauty.

Except, I think I prefer the weirder modern stuff and the big showy "classics" tend to bore me a little. While I loved Cinderella and The Italian Straw Hat because they injected a lot of humour into ballet, Sleeping Beauty is exactly what you picture from classic ballet (by Nureyev no less), with big costumes, big set pieces and lots of tutus.

And what lovely sets and costumes, and what lovely dancing! Luckily, I went on the night when Principal stars (and engaged in real life (talk about living the fantasy life!) couple) Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté (above) played said Sleeping Beauty and the handsome prince who's kiss awakens her. Talk about lovely and exquisite chemistry and beautiful dancing! In addition, two of my other favorite dancers had featured roles.

Rebekah Rimsay (who I adore in everything I've seen her in) played the Evil Queen. The bitch is BACK! Rimsay, a gorgeous dancer, is particularly great at throwing herself into character roles, and she manages to always make memorable appearances. She's delightfully evil here and turns another great comedic turn in Sleeping Beauty. Rimsay is particularly great at using both her body and face to carry through her character and manages to make her dancing and acting really funny which really sells her characters.

Robert Stephen (now promoted to Second Soloist. FINALLY. And if you've read any of my other reviews, you know I think he's a total star in the making) got a small bit part playing a cat in the cat dance and again, like Rimsay, is a great dancer, but also really gets into character and made the cat dance a weirdly wonderful moment.

Still, my problem with Sleeping Beauty is that when you come to think about it, there isn't much to the story (Evil Queen curses Princess, she sleeps, Prince saves her with a kiss, time to celebrate!) so the ballet is extended with lots of extended sequences and to be honest, the whole 1st act is really just an excuse to showcase different dancers as "fairies" and what not. There are a lot of solos and duets with a company looking on (the third act "celebration" is similar but with some more interesting duos) and I just wasn't that mesmerized about this old-style "traditional" tutu choreography after while, despite some amazing dancing. There wasn't the emotional impact needed to grab me despite the beautiful production in front of me (though the on-point spins Ogden had to do with each of her suitors was absolutely amazing! above).

It was a similar reaction to The Four Temperaments, the first of the latest shorts program. Despite being from ballet god Balanchine, I found it a very cool technical exercise with some superb dancing. But that still wasn't enough to grab me fully. It was a piece I respected and appreciated more than I loved (though I will say that Keiichi Kirano is awesome in the piece).

What I felt missing from the 1st piece, was all there in the 2nd. As soon as Watch Her (a new piece by Canadian Aszure Barton) started, I knew this was something special. With Kevin D. Bowles pealing himself from a grey wall and falling into an opening, to a reveal of a company of female dancers in a cold stark Russian looking space, and men in suits moving in unison, I was captivated and holding my breathe.

I'm still not sure what the whole piece meant, a dance piece that evoked some kind of surrealist Russian literature setting with evocations of Chekhov with men constantly evoked by the women around them, but does that matter? I felt my brain and heart going on overdrive and I sustained an airless gasp throughout the entire piece.

The choreography "is gestural and eccentric" and modern on a barren cold looking set, but the piece is full of soul and yearning pain as the men seemed to "watch" the women that fascinate them.

There are great moments with Noah Long (also deservingly promoted this year to Second Soloist), Robert Stephen, Sonia Rodriguez (above) and Bridgett Zehr amongst the company. In fact, while Zehr has been quickly promoted to become the youngest Principal currently at the National Ballet of Canada, I have often found her to be technically brilliant, but a little soulless (apparently I'm the only one since Karen Kain (amongst many others) seems to be her champion), but this was the first time I really felt like Zehr was truly showing the emotional range required by the piece. (There were also some other great dancers that I noted but I couldn't figure out who exactly they were, I think one was Alexandra Holden but I'm not sure).

You can watch a video from parts of Watch Her here.

And from an exciting new debut, to a well loved classic, the National Ballet of Canada presented Glass Pieces again (I first saw it two seasons ago) as the final selection in the mixed . It's probably my favorite ballet piece with Jerome Robbins choreography set to Phillip Glass music. Love or hate Glass, his music is perfect for modern ballet interpretation. The piece is split into 3 parts, with the opening "subway" sequence (Rubric) as probably my favorite. But the other two (Facades, Funeral from Akhnaten) are equally amazing and seeing it again confirms how brilliant the choreography, the music, the set and costumes are all put together so perfectly.

The company this time around didn't seem as perfect with the opening sequence yet (with so many newbies in the company) but the choreography is so amazing that it didn't matter. And the 6 dancers that are separated from the masses were all wonderful. It was especially nice to see newly promoted (and dancers I've kept an eye on over the last few seasons) Brett van Sickle, Noah Long and Tina Pereira in the group of 6.

You can watch a video of two scenes from Funeral from Akhnaten, the 3rd sequence of Glass Pieces here.

This year, there seemed to be more (than usual) new dancers to the Corps de Ballet but McGee Maddox, who was featured in The Four Temperaments, seemed to stand out for me, and not just because he seems like one of the tallest dancers there and looks more like a star football player (although his young Hollywood face doesn't hurt either). So before you go on accusing me of being all swoonworthy and such (although that I am too!), I thought his size (not the usual skinny ballet dancer) might hinder him and he would be lumbering through the numbers, but instead he was elegant and really smooth and surprisingly soft on his feat. He also had the same playful dance swagger that Robert Stephen's and most of the principal and first soloists have, one where you can tell dance just comes from within him. Anyways, enough gushing. There were actually a few other new dancers that seemed quite awesome as well, unfortunately, I haven't matched them with names yet as easily as it was to spot McGee Maddox (that's his real name? For real?)

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 ****
Vance at


Unknown said...

I'm glad you mentioned that the National Ballet was showing Glass Pieces - I went on Sat nite and really enjoyed it!! There was a moment in Watch her between Bridgett Zehr and Noah Long that really took my breath away - just how she expressed her emotion and movement was amazing. It helped that I had binoculars to see that close up!

But I agree - I definitely like the contemporary ballet more than the classical. Apparently the mixed contemporary programs are a harder sell than the Sleeping Beauties and Swan Lakes. I think it's generational - older people like the classics and younger people like the contemporary works.

Vance said...

Yah, they said it was 98% capacity for Sleeping Beauty and just over 80% for Glass Pieces et. all.

I think Karen Kain has done a great job trying to usher in more young people but I think they could still do more with ticket prices and stuff. I know they have Dancebreak for 29 and under but really, they could get anybody without white hair in at this point to build a future audience.

I think a lot of people seeing this modern stuff will find they will like Ballet but just don't realize it yet since they picture tutus and all.

Keira Andrews said...

I felt the same way about the Balanchine piece. It was lovely and well danced (especially by Hirano) but it didn't move me. "Watch Her," on the other hand, had me absolutely mesmerized. I've no idea what the ballet meant -- all I know is that I wanted to see it again as soon as it was over.

I enjoy both the classic ballets and more modern stuff. There's a magic to a ballet like "Sleeping Beauty" with the grand sets and costumes that transports me. But then I also love the modern stuff. I'm glad KK is keeping variety in the company's repertoire.