tristan and isolde choreography by John Alleyne. Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Opens tomorrow (Friday May 2) at 7:30 pm and runs May 3, 14 and 15 at 7:30 pm, matinees May 3 and 4 at 2 pm. $30-$114. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNNN
If you think ballet is just about tutus and dying swans, John Alleyne has news for you. The Vancouver-based choreographer has made a career out of breathing life into a form some are quick to write off as dated.
"Ballet has an amazing beauty, much like classical music," he tells me over post-rehearsal coffee.
"With dance you always have the human connection between the dancers and the audience, which makes it accessible."
His new full-length ballet, Tristan And Isolde, is based on the medieval tale of ill-fated lovers. Audiences may be familiar with Wagner's opera of the same name, though Alleyne stresses it wasn't the inspiration for this piece.
The score, by Michael Bushnell and Owen Underhill and inspired by composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, is a hybrid of baroque and contemporary.
"Rameau has no relation to the story," Alleyne explains. "I was inspired by his music's theatricality."
The choreography also blends the classical and contemporary. Rather than seeing the traditional positions and forms of ballet as limitations, Alleyne uses them for something fresh - the same way a modern composer can use centuries-old instruments to create an original song.
Tristan explores love, loss and the afterlife. Big themes, but Alleyne always manages to make a personal connection to his work. The connection here came as a result of his mother's recent death. While he declines to elaborate, he does stress that both his parents strongly encouraged him to pursue a career in dance.
"They were determined that as new immigrants their children would be exposed to as much culture as possible," says Alleyne, who arrived in Montreal from Barbados at five and immediately got interested in ballet. He joined the National Ballet School at 11.
"They were determined that I'd be successful, and always encouraged me to investigate the unknown."