AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT choreographed by James Kudelka. Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Opens Sunday (May 1) and runs to May 15, various days. $36-$126. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNNN
You don't expect to hear laughter at the ballet. Polite chuckles, yes, and - if it's a tragedy - some sniffling. But gut-splitting laughter?
All that changed last season when the National Ballet of Canada presented James Kudelka's witty new Cinderella. And many of the strongest laughs came watching dancers Rebekah Rimsay and Jennifer Fournier primp and preen as the evil stepsisters.
"It wasn't just us goofing around," says Rimsay, who played the myopically challenged step-sibling with every difficult step and raised eyebrow in place. "James jokingly called our roles virtuoso."
First soloist Rimsay is fine-tuning her comic skills again for Kudelka's brand new full-length piece, An Italian Straw Hat, opening May 1.
Based on an 1851 French farce by Eugene Labiche, the ballet is a romp about sex, lies and the French bourgeoisie. It shows the comic outcome when married socialite Anaís loses her rare hat during a tryst with an officer. Rimsay plays Anaís's randy maid, Virginia, who gets into some pretty suggestive positions with the servant Felix (Piotr Stanczyk).
"Actually, they're way more than suggestive," she laughs. "The movement is very graphic, although we're fully clothed.
"Virginia and Felix represent free sexual consensual relations, unbound by societal conventions. They're unlike the other characters, who have to get married to have sex and are constantly being frustrated."
Rimsay, who's married, recalls some major embarrassment during the work's first rehearsal with Stanczyk.
"We're essentially going through the act," she says. "I'm cleaning a glass while I'm doing it, throwing the rag back and forth."
Life seems to be imitating art these days, as Rimsay occasionally picks up a glass and rag to help out in her new café, Ground, in the Queen and Roncesvalles neighbourhood. She owns it with her architect husband, who operates his business out of the same building.
"My life has changed," she says. "This morning I had to worry about a pastry delivery, then come here to rehearse till 8 pm, then go back to the café to do paperwork. I've had to figure out how payroll works. How am I supposed to know about payroll? I'm a ballet dancer!"
Is she tempted by all those café pastries?
"Right now," she says, with perfect comic timing, "I'm more tempted by sleep."