24 PRELUDES BY CHOPIN/SOLDIERS’ MASS/ROOSTER Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To March 16. $45-$200. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNN
When Karen Kain took over as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, she mentioned former Montreal enfant terrible Marie Chouinard as one of the choreographers she’d like the company to work with.
Well, it’s happened, and Chouinard’s cheeky 1999 work, 24 Preludes By Chopin, is the obvious highlight of the company’s winter mixed program.
Chopin and the ballet world have a long history, but there’s nothing remotely Les Sylphides-ish about Chouinard’s choreography. It struts, it preens, it flaunts the sensuality of the human form with brash ballsiness.
Designer Vandal dresses 18 of the company’s dancers in revealing black outfits, small bars of fabric coyly covering select parts. Headpieces suggest an equine feel, an idea explored in some of Chouinard’s more animalistic movement.
The piano preludes, played by Jean-François Latour with sensitivity, are organized not in their usual order – a circle of fifths – but randomly. Chouinard delights in the spontaneity this allows. Imagistic one-liners rub shoulders with more developed explorations of form and space.
There’s also a complete use of the massive Four Seasons Centre stage, especially in a sequence when some dancers, their torsos hidden by the wings, move their legs up and down like the hammers on a piano.
The performers, among them Guillaume Côté, Sonia Rodriguez and Matjash Mrozewski, rise to the quirky challenges of the movement. This piece is a strong addition to the repertoire, and I can’t wait to see it again.
I wish I could say the same about the other two works on the program. Jiri Kylián’s Soldiers’ Mass (1980) is an ode to unnamed male soldiers called to war, and there’s an obvious timeliness today. But the unison movement of anonymous men snaking around trenches, banding together like brothers or falling to the ground after some blast feels overly familiar. Still, it’s moving to hear Joseph Song Chi’s mournful baritone solo in the choral element.
Also underwhelming is the night’s commercial draw, the company premiere of Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, a sequence of dances choreographed to eight Rolling Stones songs.
In look and movement, these brief pieces draw on the early-60s styles of a world on the brink of cultural change.
The men are cocky, the women coy, but unfortunately the choreography is about as complex as one of those retired Oscar sequences.
The dancers execute their moves with style, but you know they can do much more.