Zdenek Konvalina and Sonia Rodriguez move us in Chekhov/Neumeier ballet.
THE SEAGULL choreography by John Neumeier after Anton Chekhov (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To November 23. $20-$200. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNN
Not everything soars in this production of John Neumeier's 2002 ballet The Seagull, but for both the National Ballet of Canada audiences and dancers, it's a dream come true.
Dance lovers can marvel at Neumeier's ability to tell a difficult, subtle story through movement and music, while the dancers get to step into the shoes of some of the most complex, if not the showiest, characters around.
Neumeier has cleverly adapted Chekhov's play, originally set in the theatre world, to the dance milieu. The old guard, represented by choreographer Trigorin (Aleksandar Antonijevic) and prima ballerina Arkadina (Greta Hodgkinson), casts a shadow over the new, represented by Arkadina's aspiring choreographer son Kostya (Zdenek Konvalina) and up-and-coming dancer Nina (Sonia Rodriguez). Everyone's got their eye on someone else, and love, inevitably, goes awry.
There are numerous dances within dances, relationships can hinge on a single turn or glance, and the vision of happiness is as ephemeral and out-of-reach as the shifting ocean waves painted onto Neumeier's evocative set.
This isn't a ballet to watch passively. Neumeier doesn't make dance for its own sake; movement always deepens character and relationships. His pas de deux - each seemingly more challenging than the last - range from amusing to heartbreaking. And the music, conducted vigorously by David Briskin, suggests a multitude of moods and periods.
Highlights include an act-two opener that contrasts Nina's bleak state of mind with the bombast of a modern Moscow dance revue, and a parody of an old-style Russian ballet, performed by Hodgkinson, Antonijevic and the corps with the right touch of grandstanding narcissism.
A series of dream sequences evoking Kostya's state of mind aren't perfectly integrated with the rest of the show, but the choreography is bold and the staging dramatic.
Hodgkinson has great fun as the imperious grande dame, while Konvalina captures Kostya's passion, youthfulness and gradual disillusionment. Xiao Nan Yu burns with unrequited passion as a girl who's in love with Kostya yet settles for her dull fiancé.
Rodriguez doesn't quite involve us in Nina's fall, and the role of Trigorin needs an electric actor like Rex Harrington to make it work. But since this is the work's North American debut, there's lots of time for the dancers to deepen their interpretation and put their signature on this important piece.