Bethany's Gate co-directed by Diana Kolpak and Dave Tomlinson. Presented by Whetstone Productions and the Gorgonetrevich Corps de Ballet Nationale at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews Thursday (March 11), opens Friday (March 12) and runs to March 28, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, late show Friday 11 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$24, preview $15, Friday late show and Sunday pwyc. 416-538-0988. Rating: NNNNN
dave tomlinson winces as he shifts in his seat next to Diana Kolpak at the Second Cup at King and Bathurst. "Ow," he complains.
The co-directors and performers are in their second week of daily rehearsals for Bethany's Gate (previewing March 11 at the Theatre Centre), and feeling it.
"My body is aching in ways I have never experienced," says Tomlinson, better known as one-half of sketch duo Glyph (with Lex Vaughan). "In comedy you just walk onstage with a character. In ballet there's a lot of stretching."
Bethany's Gate is a dance within a play, a fairy-tale-like ballet performed by eight exiled dancers from Gorgonetrevich, a mythical land of red-nosed clowns.
"When people hear 'clown ballet,' they think it's going to be a bunch of people tripping around each other or wiping out," says Tomlinson. "This isn't like that at all."
"People might think we're like Le Ballet Trocadero," adds Kolpak, referring to the all-male cross-dressing parody of traditional ballet. "They're really great when they're dancing, but as soon as they camp it up, they lose it. That's not what we're trying to do. With us, it's just dance, dance, dance your heart out."
Tomlinson began toying with the idea of Bethany's Gate two years ago during a workshop in dance and clown with Grindl Kuchirka. In one of the exercises, the class had to present themselves as the best ballet dancers in the world.
"We started improvising this story about a boy and a girl and gates separating them," says Tomlinson. "The idea stuck in my craw, so I brought it back to one of the regular clown jams at the now-defunct SPACE."
A small group began meeting monthly to develop the ballet, rehearsing their roles as clowns and fleshing out the relationships.
Since it deals with interpersonal histories, including torrid affairs and jealous back-stabbings, the character work extends deep under the dancing.
"We decided early on not to simplify the choreography but to give it to the dancers and help them do it the best they could," explains Kolpak, who plays the ballet mistress, Mina Rafaella Kalishnikova.
Although the entire cast studied Pochinko clown with Mump and Smoot's John Turner, only the choreographer, Meagan O'Shea, had any formal dance training. Under her guidance the rest of the company has been catching up. Last night a ballet coach came in to fine-tune their technique.
Which explains Tomlinson's aching muscles.