WEST SIDE STORY SUITE/GLASS PIECES/IN THE NIGHT choreographed by Jerome Robbins (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To Nov 18. $45-$200. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNN
In a savvy programming move likely orchestrated by artistic director Karen Kain , the National Ballet of Canada has solved that age-old question, how to make classical dance exciting to a new audience while pleasing hardcore ballet lovers at the same time.
The big populist draw for the National's exciting Jerome Robbins triple bill is his West Side Story Suite , a 35-minute series of dances that distills the essence of the musical and movie. What's surprising is how versatile and confident the choreographer is in the two preceding works.
The program begins with Glass Pieces , choreographed to music by Philip Glass . A nifty little non-narrative triptych performed to the composer's lulling rising and falling motifs, the work draws you in subtly, even if the movements - especially by the corps - aren't always executed with the precision they require.
The highlight here is the haunting second movement, where two soloists (on Friday night Xiao Nan Yu and Nehemiah Kish ) dance a serene duet in front of a ghostly line of dancers lit like stick figures executing some primal routine.
In The Night is a more old-fashioned sequence of pas de deux, a contrasting series of moods and temperaments set to four of Chopin's nocturnes. There's a party piece, choreographer-for-hire feel about this work, but it's sensitively danced even if Mark Harjes 's piano playing feels sluggish and routine.
What's most remarkable about West Side Story Suite is how quickly the thing moves along. This is character- and narrative-driven choreography at its best, and the National's dancers are up for the physical challenge, even if their voices aren't Broadway calibre. (The one vocal surprise? Je-an Salas 's Rosalia .)
The highlight of the suite, perhaps predictably, is Dance At The Gym, which is all about dance as display and showing off.
Here, the dancers hike up their skirts and stretch their legs to maximum dramatic effect, truly inspired by Leonard Bernstein 's ahead-of-its-time music and an ageless story of star-crossed love.