Contract expires

Rating: NNNNNthe contract choreographed by James Kudelka, libretto by Robert Sirman, set by Michael Levine, with the company, May 14-18,.

Rating: NNNNN

the contract choreographed by James Kudelka, libretto by Robert Sirman, set by Michael Levine, with the company, May 14-18, Tuesday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $26-$110, May 14 all seats $20-$40. 416-345-9595. Rating: N

james kudelka’s the contract needs a major overhaul before it ever gets renewed.The $1.2-million National Ballet of Canada premiere is the most confusing and dramatically empty narrative ballet I’ve ever seen.

Kudelka’s not a strong storytelling choreographer — he’s best at abstract pieces like The Four Seasons or modest narratives like The Actress — but his work here enters a new realm of befuddlement.

Set in a nameless community hall that feels American (maybe because Michael Torke’s easy-on-the-ears score cribs shamelessly from every mid-20th-century American composer), the work opens promisingly with a charming play-within-a-play version of the Pied Piper story.

We’re in high realism mode here: narrator Tom McCamus recites the famous Browning poem, kids act out the story in Michael Levine’s naturalistic set, which includes a couple of ghostly touches (like white exit signs), and Kudelka indicates age, station and religious order with geometric moves that seem inspired by square dancing.

Things go awry in the subsequent narrative about a man named Will (Guillaume Cot) who returns to town on the night of the play and quickly infects his peers — including his fiancee, Dot (Rebekah Rimsay) — with a mysterious disease. Soon enough, everyone’s healed by a stranger named Eva (the expressive Martine Lamy), who’s at first embraced by the community and then shunned when she’s seen having sex with Will.

Kudelka fails to establish character through movement, so we never know or care about Will, Dot or even Eva. Librettist Robert Sirman, whose chief writing credit seems to be speechwriting in the 70s, continually misses dramatic opportunities. What’s Dot’s reaction when she discovers her fiance’s betrayal? When did Eva make the contract? Why not emphasize these different kinds of broken contracts?

Kudelka and Sirman focus instead on the tired theme of sexual freedom versus repression, symbolized also in Denis Lavoie’s evocative costumes.

Kudelka’s failure can be summed up in a single climactic scene where three different women dance over Will. They should each be feeling something unique, but Kudelka has them dancing similarly in a line. Here, as elsewhere, he sacrifices dramatic truth for a pleasant visual.glenns@nowtoronto.comdance review

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