The National Ballet of Canada stepped up to the plate in style with a strong double bill, Désir and Madame Butterfly (February 23-27, Hummingbird Centre), and a mixed program of Les Sylphides , Opus 19/The Dreamer and La Ronde (March 2-6). In Désir, seven dreamy couples dressed in filmy purples, blues and Valentine reds desire one another on a bare creamy blue stage. Welcome to the deceptively simple heartland of James Kudelka 's choreography: upright classical technique infused with hearty and elegant twists. A treat for balletomanes and the uninitiated alike.
To serve the well-known score and storyline of Puccini 's opera Madame Butterfly , choreographer Stanton Welch successfully employs classical vocabulary with mild Asian undertones. Having seen the spare, gorgeous production with a mediocre Pinkerton at the 2001 premiere, I could better appreciate this beauty because of Patrick Lavoie 's fresh, competent interpretation of this key role. His Butterfly, Stacey Shiori Minagawa , expertly tempered her character's innocence and tragic sense of devotion.
Sylphs and standing oh
Les Sylphides , with its hummable Chopin score, is the quintessential romantic-era ballet. The key corps did a laudable job of the timeless, thankless white-tulle tasks of mirroring, framing and posing in harmony. Principals Chan Hon Goh , Guillaume Côté , Sonia Rodriguez and Heather Ogden were in fine ethereal form. Special kudos to Côté, who sustained levity in a jump-filled solo of molasses tempo and to Ogden for her engagingly elegant aplomb.
Jerome Robbins created the second work in the trio, Opus 19/The Dreamer , on none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride, with trademark non-classical touches like flexed feet and leaning hips.
Just when you thought reprise was futile, Aleksandar Antonijevic and Sonia Rodriguez gave a stunning performance of this quirky, exciting ballet. Accompanying violinist James Ehnes soared through Prokofiev 's Violin Concerto No. 1, and all deserved and received a standing ovation.
Rounding out the program was Glen Tetley 's La Ronde . Based on Arthur Schnitzler 's 1908 play set in steamy Vienna, a string of eight lovers duet in succession. The neighbourhood's prostitute, the lithely energetic Julie Hay , initiated sessions of lust that were cleverly danced by a seductive cast. The only blip in the romp was some clunky manipulation of a couple of superfluous sets.
Grace McDace Barker, Eryn Dace Trudell 's aunt, lost her young life to breast cancer. When I arrived at the Winchester Street Theatre for Trudell's Grace (February 24-27), I felt hurried. 90 minutes later, I felt calm and convinced anew that humans are fundamentally good.
Relatively simple in form and content, For Grace, a solo Trudell performed at her aunt's wake in 2001, and Grace, which Trudell created on five female dancers, were seamless and pleasant.
Set to an agreeable audio mix of music, silence and earnest chat, Trudell's piece adroitly treats the pain of loss by honouring hope and the sweeter emotions.
Asylum Of Spoons (March 1-5, Premiere Dance Theatre), choreographed by Allen Kaeja on Karen Kaeja and a crew of dancers whose raison d'être on a dance stage ranges from natural to questionable, speaks of dysfunction and family. Armed with dozens of stainless steel spoons, the dancers slog through a series of noisy exchanges. Spoons are everywhere: on the floor, in clothing.
Set to interesting, eclectic music by Edgardo Moreno , the work never decides if it's a series of scenes or a piece with a plot. A manipulative matriarch with indecipherable motives pounds around making her hobbled "family" and the rest of us uncomfortable.
DanceWorks' Platform 33 (March 3-5, Harbourfront Centre) presented us with three premieres by three international choreographers, all performed by three dancers ( Shannon Cooney , Susan Elliott and Linnea Swan ) who hail from three parts of Canada. L'Avenir , an open-season exploration of loss by Barcelona's Damian Muñoz , is the most morose. Muñoz doesn't shy away from a well-performed vocabulary of writhing and grasping. An intriguing mixture of music is interspersed with a few words like "Buscame la tristeza" (Find me sorrow) and some favourite sounds (geese, feet walking on snow). Unfortunately, the attractive dresses hid and bound some of the movement.
Kim Itoh from Japan offered Shelf Life , danced to Toronto composer John Oswald 's groovy arrangement of familiar Beethoven . This self-effacing, clever piece brims with energy and wit. The dancers reminded me of iTunes visuals, swirling, swooping and suspending motion in musical unison. Cleverly lit by Kimberly Purtell .
I could watch Seven Ways To Tell Time , by Louise Bédard from Montreal, again and see new things in it. If we expand on the wordplay that Bédard puts in the dancers' mouths, we can declare it "franchement"- excellent. Unaffected innovation and kooky props make it unpredictable, childlike good fun.