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Semperoper Ballett Dresden

swan lake semperoper ballett dresden

Photography Ian Whalen

Swan Lake

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Performances November 9 through 11, 8 p.m.; NOTE: Saturday’s show sold out)

Probably the greatest romantic classic ballet of all time, Swan Lake is loved for its music (by Tchaikovsky) and its dramatic tragedy. Famous for its dances of the swans, the ballet’s heroine is its most captivating element. The Swan Queen, who becomes a beautiful woman between midnight and dawn, and who falls in love with the young Prince Siegfried, is doomed from the start.

The origin of the story of Swan Lake and its ballet version have been lost in ambiguity. The 18th century German author Johann Karl August Musäus wrote a tale called Der geraubte Schleier (The Stolen Veil), which has a similar plot to Swan Lake. And the Russian folktale The White Duck has a resemblance. Tchaikovsky, who composed the ballet in the 1870s, was fascinated by the life of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose tragic life was chosen as the prototype of Prince Siegfried and who was symbolized by a swan.

Either way, the plot of the ballet, the image of the swan and the idea of faithful love are essentially Russian.

swan lake semperoper ballett dresden 2

Photography Ian Whalen

It is believed Tchaikovsky created an earlier, smaller version of Swan Lake called The Lake of the Swans. Since the première of the full-length ballet in Moscow 140 years ago – which was not well-received – this dramatic story has been reimagined by such choreographers as Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa and the American dancer William Christensen, and many versions with alternative endings have been presented by companies all over the world.

Semperoper Ballett’s artistic director, our own Canadian export Aaron S. Watkin, created a fresher, embellished and shorter version of this timeless ballet for his company in Dresden, Germany in 2009, dusting off much of the four-act ballet and condensing it into two acts. True to Tchaikovsky’s original tempo, the lyrical score is a bit more upbeat than more recent versions

The Ottawa presentations are part of a North American tour of the company, but Swan Lake is being performed only in Ottawa.

“This tour has a personal resonance for me,” says Watkin, “as it is the first time I will return home to Canada to present our company.”

swan lake semperoper ballett dresden 3

Photography Ian Whalen

Watkin, who was born in British Columbia, graduated from the National Ballet School of Canada in 1988 and went on to dance with the National Ballet of Canada, the English National Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. In 1997, he was invited by world-renowned choreographer William Forsythe to become a principal dancer with Ballet Frankfurt and later joined the National Dance Company of Spain and was associate artistic director at Victor Ullate Ballet in Madrid. He was a personal choreographic assistant to Forsythe, setting his ballets throughout the world and was a regular guest teacher to many of Europe’s leading dance companies. He was appointed artistic director of the Semperoper Ballett in 2006.


Face 2 Face


Laurie Young, photograph by Guntar Kravis

Every minute, lightning strikes Earth 360 times, 243,000 photos are uploaded to Facebook and two million red blood cells regenerate in your body. So says Laurie Young, who presents a fascinating and reflexive 60-minute dance work, How is Now, as part of the contemporary Face 2 Face dance event in downtown Ottawa this week.

Accompanied by composer and drummer Johannes Malfatti, who towers over the tiny dancer, Young contemplates the variables and mysteries of time in a work that focuses on creative repetition, intermittent blackouts, and moving backwards in space and time. Malfatti’s accompaniment taps out the rhythm of the movement, ending in a curious rumble and creak under a half light that gives us the sense we’re in another dimension of time and space.

The 2017 Face 2 Face series, which is the fifth edition of an event that shines the spotlight on rising contemporary dance stars, highlights Canadian talent.

Now based in Berlin, Young worked with Ottawa’s Le Groupe Dance Lab before she co-founded Sasha Waltz and Guests. With a keen interest in history – she created an installation performance that traces 25 years of dance history in Berlin and is involved in creating choreographic audio guides for natural history museums around the world – perhaps it is no surprise that Young should present a study based on time.

Young’s How is Now, which plays again Thursday and Saturday at the Arts Court’s ODD BOX, is one of seven works being presented nightly until Saturday.

Thursday through Saturday, a triple bill of Canadian choreographers perform five varied works at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins, in Studio A. Joshua Beamish, a New York-based Canadian choreographer known for his distinctive approach to dance, presents radios, a work by NAC associate dance artist Ame Henderson, and a piece of his own, Concerto, to the music of J.S. Bach.

areli moran and paige culley in daina ashbee unrelated

Areli Moran and Paige Culley in Daina Ashbee’s “Unrelated”

Also on the bill is another New York-based Canadian Belinda McGuire, who presents two works, Til 120, Again and The Eight Propositions, and dance theatre artist Cie Mossoux-Bonté of Belgium with her work Vice Versa, a duo for two female dancers, accompanied by Quebecois storyteller and singer Michel Faubert’s interpretation of the folk song, Les anneaux de Marianson.

On Friday and Saturday, at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins’ Studio B, the edgy Montreal artist Daina Ashbee presents a dark and vulnerable work, Unrelated, a work set for two dancers that interprets the experience of Indigenous women in Canada.

For more information on the performances and on the event, visit the National Arts Centre website:


Tero Saarinen Company


Reviewed October 5, 2017                               

NAC Babs Asper Theatre, Ottawa

tero saarinen morphed cropped

Tero Saarinen’s Morphed could be so much more than it is. Billed as a work that explores the theme of male identity, the 60-minute piece moves from a drawn-out tight ritualistic marching about the stage in random square patterns to an eerie and chaotic arm-twisting finale.

Given the current twisted political climate, changing gender issues and challenges over racial identity, a dance work that puts seven phenomenal male dancers on the stage could have presented something way more meaningful.

Instead, the work doesn’t extend much beyond the stage, which is “trapped” on three sides by hundreds of lengths of floor-sweeping ropes, leaving many in the audience unmoved.

A solo horn, a Concert Étude by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Esa Tapani, heralds the tedious opening, which has the seven dancers marching solidly in bare feet on a white floor dressed entirely in black, including hoods. There is little clue to their identity. The solitary horn and the seemingly meaningless walking gives the work a hollow and aimless refrain.

Saarinen, who premiered the work in Helsinki, Finland three years ago, eventually breaks the band of men into more individual expression, but predominantly it is a moving group of seven. When they interact with each other, there is always a sense of embattled wills or competition. Often, one of the men will be hooded, keeping any intimacy at bay.

As the men interact with the set of hanging ropes – so much symbolism here – setting them wildly asway, their movements become increasingly out of control.

Always, the choreography follows the depressingly moody music of Finnish composer Salonen. A final violin concerto, by Salonen and American-Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz, changes the mood for the frantic finale. Here, lighting and set designer Mikki Kunttu plays with the light, first bathing it in a harsh, cold blue as a vulnerability among the men emerges, then warming the stage into a golden hue, which bounces the light off the glistening skin of the men, at least half of whom are now bare-chested.

The curtain falls mid-scene.

Tanztheater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch

pina bausch rite of spring_credit Alexandra Campeau

The Rite of Spring, photograph by Alexandra Campeau

The Rite of Spring / Café Müller

Reviewed September 28, 2017                        

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances September 29 & 30, 8 p.m.)

It’s rare that a work of modern dance created more than 40 years ago would be of much interest to audiences today, unless they were students of dance history. But the late Pina Bausch was a special kind of creative genius and her Rite of Spring, created in 1975, is still a crowd pleaser today, bringing Ottawa’s dance aficionados to their feet for several minutes of applause Thursday.

The Rite of Spring is a special dance work, nevertheless. Causing the most famous scandal in the art world when it emerged in 1913, Vaslav Nijinsky’s original work, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and accompanied by composer Igor Stravinsky, was looking to shock sophisticated Parisians.

Of the more than a hundred choreographers who have interpreted this work since, Pina Bausch’s version certainly stands out. The German choreographer, known for her life-changing theatre, uses the full orchestral version of Stravinsky’s score to create a dramatic and passionate narrative of choosing a victim to die in a sacrificial ritual.

Dance student Johanna Morris, who studied Bausch’s version of The Rite of Spring, writes of the work, “The violence and fear perpetuated within her choreography resonates in all of us. Nature, then, represents not only a rebirth and rejuvenation of the earth, but becomes an entity in its own right. It is in a constant flux of life and death—it must kill itself in the winter in order to be reborn in the spring. This idea is reflected in society and in the ritual of The Rite of Spring.”

It’s impressive enough to watch the crew cover the entire stage with dirt before the work begins. Wheeling great barrels of earth onto the stage during the intermission, a veritable squad of rakers and sweepers set to work. By the end of the performance, the 30 dancers are drenched in sweat and soil.

The work itself is powerful beyond belief. The combination of Stravinsky’s revolutionary composition, performed by the NAC Orchestra, and the sheer number of dancers kicking up the dirt on stage is riveting.

The movement is earthy and animalistic, sensual and impulsive. It’s also very ritualistic and keeps strict time with the insistent, pulsating and dissonant rhythms of Stravinsky, so that it becomes an all-inclusive pensive piece of theatre.

The bare-chested men are clad in black pants, creating a meaningful contrast to the graceful women in flimsy white slips and the chosen one who wears the symbolic red dress.

Since Bausch died in 2009, nearly half the company are new dancers who never knew the iconic choreographer. And a few artistic directors later, Adolphe Binder, formerly of the Berlin Ballet, has taken over the reins with plans to keep Bausch’s signature works alive.

Café Müller is another classic Pina Bausch work likely to remain in the repertory. Created in 1978, it often runs aside The Rite of Spring. Personally, I don’t think it will age as well as the latter, but it’s a piece Bausch performed in herself well into her sixties.

On the stage strewn with black café tables and chairs, reflective walls and a revolving door, half a dozen dancers perform repetitive movement sequences, sometimes sped up or slowed down, at times with a minor change introduced. The sense of the piece is an inability to escape small ingrained behavioral habits.

However Bausch’s works hit you, it’s always worth seeing a performance by this prodigious artist and her Rite of Spring is not to be missed at any rate.



Dance Machine_credit_Yvonne Chew

Lee Su-Feh of Vancouver presents an immersive dance project called Dance Machine July 12-15

Marie Chouinard, a unique Canadian artist based in Montreal, brings her recent dance work, Hieronymous Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights, to the Canada Dance Festival next week.

Inspired by Bosch, the sixteenth century Dutch painter known for his fantastic imagery and macabre landscapes, Chouinard has created her own masterpiece.

Her three-act Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights is part of a special segment of the Canada Dance Festival called Scene Makers, which focuses on provocative Canadian genre-blurring artists who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and break the rules.

chouinard garden of earthly delights photographer Nicolas Ruel

Valeria Galluccio in Marie Chouinard’s Garden of Earthly Delights, photograph by Nicolas Ruel

Chouinard presents her work at the Babs Asper Theatre on Elgin Street, on Friday, July 14 at 8 p.m. Later in the evening, there will be a party in the NAC Canal Lobby called Scene-O-Rama, free to the public, featuring various performances and arts installations.

During an interview from her hometown of Montreal, Chouinard said, “The aim of an artist is to step into the unknown landscape, to go where no one has gone before. The aim is to offer some food for the soul.”

Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, which has been restored and now hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado, is the best known of his surviving works. A triptych painted in oil on oak panels, the middle square features naked men and women frolicking in a surreal landscape of strange birds and beasts and enormous sized fruits. The flanking panels represent the Garden of Eden and a hellish depiction of torment.


Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”

Chouinard said that she saw the actual painting in Madrid only a few days before her Garden of Earthly Delights premiered in Bosch’s birthplace of Den Bosch in Holland last August.

In the meantime, she had the image printed onto an immense canvas to study and analyze every detail of the intricate artwork.

The opportunity for her to create the dance work on her company of 10 dancers arrived suddenly when Ad’s-Gravesande, head of the Jheronimus Bosch 500 Foundation, which is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the painter’s death, contacted Chouinard and asked her to create a dance based on the artist.

“My company was performing in Prague at the time,” recalls Chouinard. “We met for 15 minutes and I said ‘Yes.’”

Chouinard worked with her dancers over an 18- to 24-month period, with many interruptions as the company toured.

“But I like to create with interruptions,” she explained. “You can step out of the work and come back to it. When you go back, it gives you a new momentum.”

Critics in Europe and in Toronto have called Chouinard’s Garden of Earthly Delights a work of “raw gusto” that brings the Bosch triptych to life, that it is magnificent, bold, delightful, provocative and “beautifully unsettling.”

Chouinard believes the work will take the audience into another dimension where they have never been before.

“It is a profound experience for the audience. Art can be an aesthetic experience, a spiritual experience, an emotional experience that affects you on intellectual, physical and philosophical levels, and this is what I hope to give to the audience, and I want to do this because I love when I am experiencing masterpieces in painting or music or sculpture. It’s like an encounter. It’s like coming back home.”

The Canada Dance Festival has been offering Canadians a snapshot of dance history in the making since 1987. This year’s event, which swung into action July 2, continues through July 16. In partnership with Canada Scene, the dance festival is showcasing contemporary dance works in out-of-the-ordinary venues. Bringing the medium to the community, dancers are performing in various venues across the city.

Lots of free shows – some examples:

From Quebec, Fortier Danse-Création presents dance artist Naishi Wang performing 30-minute site-specific solos every night at 10 p.m. at various outdoor venues through the city, rain or shine.


Roger Sinha brings his Bollywood style flash mob dance to Ottawa, photograph by Kevin Calixte

This Saturday and Sunday, July 8 & 9, at 2 p.m., Sinha Danse of Montreal presents a bit of Bollywood magic outside at the National Gallery, with a 25-minute flash mob project that has amateur volunteers from the Ottawa-Gatineau region working with professional dancers in an intergenerational and intercultural creation called OttaW(olly)Wood.

Vancouver’s renowned choreographer Lee Su-Feh has conceived an immersive dance project called Dance Machine, that has artists and audience members alike entering a kinetic bamboo sculpture to create a unique experience from multiple perspectives. At the National Arts Centre salon at various times from July 12 through 15.

Newfoundlander Anne Troake presents a 3-D film, OutSideIn, which meditates on the human body and its relationship to the natural world. Shot in the woods, the 40-minute film reveals a sublime and disquieting new universe. Canadian Museum of Nature, July 15 at 4 p.m. (includes pre-show chat) and July 16 at 4:30 p.m.

For a full schedule and details about performances, visit


Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal

les grands MINUS ONEMinus One

Reviewed May 6, 2017

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

Created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Minus One is certainly one of the most fascinating works in the Montreal contemporary company’s repertoire.

What’s astonishing is that, even though it premiered 15 years ago, it’s still dynamic and vibrant today.

Known for inventing his own unique movement language, which encourages dancers to step beyond the familiar, Naharin has attracted fans around the world. Now in his sixties, he has received many awards and honours for his choreography. Since 1990, he has been artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, where he started his dance career. His works are performed by dance companies around the world.

As a compilation of several different works, Minus One reinterprets earlier dances and pulls together a complete evening of eclectic entertainment, rife with intelligence, clarity, fun and wit. It’s a theatrical work of kinetic energy that leaves a bevy of dramatic images in the observer’s memory long after it ends.

The show begins before it begins – not novel, but an engaging way to introduce the audience to the show to come: a lone dancer prances delightfully – sometimes clownishly — across the stage, interacting with the audience, some still settling into their seats, with a “watch me” kind of elegance and jocularity.

When the show proper begins, it nearly overpowers with the sheer number of dancers on stage – I’d say about 30 – dressed completely alike in black two-piece suits, white shirts and bowler hats, both men and women. To the traditional Passover song “Ecchad Mi Yodea,” written and performed by rock band Tractor’s Revenge, a full cast sits on folding chairs in a semi-circle that takes up the entire stage. The music is driving, the dancers shout loudly, the movement is repetitive. Sometimes the dancers move ensemble, sometimes sequentially in a long impressive wave movement. It’s a strong, bold, enthralling opening that sets the stage for what’s to come.

Naharin has a clear sense of the overall effect of a full cast performing collaboratively – even when the odd dancer stands out from the crowd. He often uses repetitive movement to form structure, foundation and pattern. His duets can be curious, even while playful. Ritual and symbolism seep into some movements. Dancers bond, explore relationship and engage in unusual and beguiling ways.

Exceptionally skilled, extraordinary in their diversity and infinitely musical throughout, the dancers not only co-operate in a group mentality, but also express their individuality, particularly in a movement that has about a dozen dancers form a line, allowing one dancer at a time to break out and share their own relationship with dance. A voice-over of their autobiographical stories accompanies each brief solo – stories that are touching, quaint, surprising and real.

The music accompaniment is as eclectic as the movement. From a Jeremy Barlow arrangement of the traditional English folk song Greensleeves to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and the Hollywood composers Livingston and Ray’s famous Que Sera Sera, the music defines the action on stage.

As Naharin is also a great believer in the pleasure of dance, and that everyone should do it, perhaps it is no surprise that at some point during the evening, a host of dancers fan out into the audience and bring some 15 audience members back onto the stage to participate in a group cha-cha. The effect is delightful. Many of the “non-dancers” fit in so naturally, it nearly looks rehearsed!

And perhaps that is the point! Anyone can dance.

The show at the National Arts Centre Saturday marked the end of a mini-tour of the work by Les Grands Ballets in British Columbia and Ontario.



alberta ballet caelestis

Jean Grand-Maître’s Caelestis, photograph by Michael Slobodian

Reviewed April 20, 2017

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances Friday & Saturday, April 21 & 22, 8:00 p.m.)

It’s so Canadian! Three of Canada’s best ballet companies performing contemporary ballet works by three of Canada’s best dance choreographers, accompanied by the sound of three of Canada’s best young musicians.

The idea of premiering such a show at the National Arts Centre on the eve of Canada 150 sprung from the minds of NAC’s dance executive producer Cathy Levy and music director Alexander Shelley a few years ago.

And so, with Shelley in the pit with his orchestra providing live accompaniment, the Ottawa audience experienced some of Canada’s best creative minds at work on the stage this week.

ENCOUNT3RS, overall, is a somewhat “dark” presentation, from Jean Grand-Maître’s Caelestis, which opens the show, to Guillaume Côté’s Dark Angels, which wraps it up.

alberta ballet caelestis 2

Alberta Ballet dancers perform in Caelestis, photograph by Michael Slobodian

The former, danced by 10 Alberta Ballet artists, focuses on the intrigue of shapes – not only the shapes of the dancers individually as they crawl, claw, hang or reach, but also the shape of the duets and the shape of the group as a whole as the dancers come together as one large beast. 

The shaping is even more pronounced against the stark lighting that is projected onto the back of the stage and the floor. A video design by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis moves continuously, so that it becomes its own entity in the work. The skin of the dancers – the men are bare-chested – reflects a pale golden light in contrast to the mostly black-and-white seemingly random fast-moving images.

Collaborating with Grand-Maître, composer Andrew Staniland created a three-movement score he says is inspired by what is known as “the golden ratio” of Phi, and towards the end incorporates readings of quotes from Euclid’s “The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.”

Côté’s Dark Angels carries a loneliness through the work, even within the duets, but often switches suddenly into fleeting moments of love or joy, all patterned beautifully on the stage by the 10 National Ballet of Canada dancers.

guillaume cote's dark angels

National Ballet performs Guillaume Côté’s Dark Angels

Kevin Lau, who collaborated with Côté for the work, fresh from their first collaboration on the ballet Le Petit Prince, feeds the desperate and energetic movements with a brilliant piece of music that threatens with its persistent drums and soulful strings, and just a dash of the exotic.

Lastly, and kind of least, sandwiched between these two numbers, is a somewhat draggy ballet called Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming, choreographed by Emily Molnar for eight Ballet BC dancers. Molnar says she was inspired by the dancers’ responses to her query, “If you were to put your life on hold, where would you go?” And while the dancers have an opportunity to show off their amazing individual skills, the piece lacks creativity.

“Musical scientist” Nicole Lizée, who says she drew her inspiration for the collaboration from the neo-noir cinema of the 1980s and 1990s, and who likes to mix old and new sounds and capture the glitches of outdated technology, has created a dissonant, overly electronic angry accompaniment to the work.


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