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

More After the Jump...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bookends - Don Quixote & The Secret Garden - Stage Reviews

Don Quixote - The National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Choreography Restaged by Lindsay Fischer and Peter Ottmann, after Choreography by Nicolas Beriozoff, Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky
Until Mar. 13th 2011

The Secret Garden - Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Lucy Simon, Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman, Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Directed by Anna Linstrum
Until Mar. 19th 2011

Adaptations from other sources into stage shows is a time honoured tradition, and not a new thing, but sometimes it works and sometimes it can work, but misses the mark (ahem, arachnid's anybody?). While I've actually never read or even seen Don Quixote or The Secret Garden in any incarnation, making them completely new stories to me. While I found the story of Don Quixote quite odd (especially considering how famous it is, and finally finding out what it's about), the ballet production by the National Ballet of Canada was strong and grande as usual. While The Secret Garden has seemed to capture many hearts, I found the musical had lovely touches but somehow didn't secure my heart.

NBC's Don Quixote has some beautiful sets and we follow the journey of DQ (Character Dancer Hazaros Surmeyan on my night) and his faithful companion Sancho Panza (my favorite Robert Stephen) as they journey in serach of DQ's non-existent love Dulcinea. Along the way he encounters various characters and his jovial self seems to always help lovers unite. There's no heartbreaking drama or emotionally pulling story, but it makes for a light, enjoyable excuse to meet Gypsy's, Matadors, and it lets the dance company spread the wealth around, with beautiful dances for many players.

Xiao Nan Yu and Aleksandar Antonijevic, who I sometimes find a bit cold (although Yu wowed me last year in Onegin, which returns next week), got to let loose and have fun as Streetdancer Mercedes and Toreador Espada, and I've never seen them better. They were superb and showed that their technical prowess can marry with joyous delight in the right roles.

Greta Hodgkinson and Piotr Stanczyk (above) take the leading romantic roles as Kitri and Basilio, lovers kept apart, until Don Quixote helps them fend off parents and a silly suitor (the always fun Kevin D. Bowles). Piotr has always been an excellent dancer who was a great character actor, so it's nice to see him get leading man status nowadays.

Tina Pereira and Julian Vanstone were pretty in pink and purple as Kitri's friends, Tanya Howard was beautiful as ever as the Catanet Woman, and Elena Lobsanova was absolutely gorgeous as Queen Dryad, who appears in Don Quixote's dream (yes, there's a dream sequence, after a Gypsy sequence, and before a tawdry tavern sequence. Like I said, the story goes all over the place).

While I'm no dance expert, and I tend not to love the classic ballet's as much as the modern ones, I found Don Quixote totally lovely, particularly in Act 2 and 3 (once I could get over the randomness of the story and just accept each dance scene as their own, beautifully performed set). Despite not loving the story, it's such a pleasure to see the superb company perform, as it seems to be such a standard to adhere to. I also love picking out the next stars out of the Corps lineup. Again, I know nothing about technicality, but I did pick out boys Robert Stephens and McGee Maddox (both who've been promoted recently) so I'd like to think I have an eye for these things! Ha! This time around, (I think I have the names right from the corps), Joseph Steinauer and Dylan Tedaldi seemed to stand out from an already strong corps.

Now I loved Robert Stephens in such a comicical role as Sancho Panza, though I do wish there was more dancing to that role, as it's always a delight to see him move. But like Rebekah Rimsay (who I think is the best character dancer of the company), Stephens seems to be excelling at putting his whole body into a role, and telling story, character and humour through his body movements.

The Secret Garden musical is a nice, unassuming, inoffensive musical, but it lacks the emotional pull to really get my attention, and while the music has some melodic moments, overall, it just sort of meshes together into a bit of a bore.

Fantastic performances from the young central characters overcomes some of the less affecting adult roles/characters. The best were Jos Slovick (Spring Awakening London) as Dickon, the young gardener who helps central character's Mary with finding The Secret Garden, Holly B. Julier as the maid with the lovely voice and Gene Goodman as bedridden child.

The production directed by Anna Linstrum seems strong, with some nice revolving effective sets and a good ensemble, but the overall book by Marsha Norman and the songs by Norman and Lucy Simon keep the overall pacing slugging along.

Vance at

More After the Jump...

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Little Girls - Alice in Wonderland and Gigi - Theatre Reviews

Alice in Wonderland - Théâtre Tout à Trac at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Based on the novel by Lewis Carroll, Adapted and Directed by Hugo Bélanger, Translated by Maureen Labonté
Runs until Mar. 19th 2011, Continues on a US tour.

Gigi - Reprise Theatre Company at Freud Playhouse - Los Angeles, CA - ** (out of 5 stars)
Music by Frederick Loewe, Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Based on a novel by Colette, Directed by David Lee
Ended Feb. 27th 2011

Alice in Wonderland has always been a classic that has move beyond the realm of the books it originally came from. In fact, in the director's notes, Hugo Bélanger even notes that it's a classic many of us have never actually read, yet we all know the story of Alice falling down the rabbit hole, whether it was via Disney, last year's terrible Tim Burton adaptation, or just in its own literature brand.

The Montreal theatre company Tout à Trac has culled Lewis Carroll's story into a one-act hour long play for kids, and while I still find the overall story a bit trippy and dark, the company nicely imbues the show with some imaginatively simple (yet strangely complicated) staging using puppetry and an elaborate (yet simple looking) bookcase set, where the wonders of Alice's adventures come to life.

The puppetry and the various characters the small cast of 5 manages to portray is simply impressive, and while the set never diverts from the bookcase, there's so many little surprises and reveals that it only adds to the delirium of the story of Alice (Valérie Deault).

It was fun listening to the post-show discussion as the children in the audience got to ask questions trying to clarify the ambiguity in the story of Alice (and if it was reality or a Wonderland) and how the company managed to make its theatrical magic!

Over in LA, Jason Alexander's (Seinfeld) company recently reprised Gigi, Lerner and Lowe's classic movie musical that was later adapted into a stage musical. The production only lasts a few weeks (as all of Reprise Theatre shows do) so the production feels a bit quickly thrown together, but an often impressive cast usually gives it the professionalism that elevates it over an amped-up community theatre show.

Here, Matt Cavanaugh (Broadway's West Side Story, A Catered Affair, Grey Gardens) and William Atherton (original The House of Blue Leaves) take on the leading men roles, but both are overshadowed by Lisa O'Hare in the title role of Gigi. O'Hare is an absolute dream in this role and easily commands the stage with her voice and sparkling personality.

Strangely and sadly, while the musical is named after Gigi, she does not seem to have the biggest role, with the boys having more songs than she does, which is a shame since O'Hare should be heard singing as much as possible. Instead, Cavanaugh plays Gaston, the older family friend to Gigi (and yes, there are strong hints of My Fair Lady to this musical), it's Gaston's uncle Honoré who narrates the show and seems to have the biggest part, including singing "Thank Heaven For Little Girls", which via Atherton, feels a little creepy.

The simple set seems a bit flat, and understandable for a short run of this production, but Gigi revels in the champagne flowing vie de Paris and it's simply not enough to put us in the right mood.

The charming story doesn't manage to stay afloat amidst the imbalance in attention to the wrong characters, and while Lisa O'Hare does as much to carry the show, but when the title character isn't given the centre of attention, what can a girl do?

Vance at

More After the Jump...