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momix opus cactus _ cactus wren _ morning starOpus Cactus

Reviewed March 12, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performance March 13, 8 p.m.)

Moses Pendleton brings his unusual company of dancer-illusionists to Ottawa this week to present a vintage work with a new look.

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Focusing on the American southwest desert landscape, Opus Cactus comprises a series of 18 vignettes rife with such imagery as tumbleweeds, cacti, snakes and strange alien-like creatures, and natural earthy sounds of wind, birds and magical chimes.

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The nearly two-hour work (with intermission) is an innovative performance by super athletic dancers, who contort and entwine their bodies in such as way as to create natural and animal/insect-like images against remarkably simple hot sun or wispy cloud backdrops. Inventive lighting by Pendleton, Joshua Starbuck and John Finen III, puppetry by Michael Curry and Phoebe Katzin’s costumes create an overall film-like quality to the presentation that results in a highly entertaining piece of theatre.

MOMIX, or rather Pendleton, goes back to 1971, when he and a group of fellow students in Connecticut started the American modern dance company Pilobolus, named after a fungus. The small troupe was extraordinary then, defying anatomical logic with their bizarrely entangled bodies.

Ten years later, Pendleton founded MOMIX, named after a milk supplement fed to animals. His choreography combines acrobatics, gymnastics and mime with dance in theatrical settings.

Opus Cactus originated as a much shorter 20-minute work in 2001 for the Ballet Arizona and was revived last year as a full work.

All in all, it’s a delightful evening of desert-landscape-come-to-life, full of surprises and fun.


Yoann Bourgeois

He Who Falls (Celui qui tombe)

Reviewed March 9, 2018

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance March 10, 7:30 p.m.)

Some artists defy gravity, so to speak. They are able to soar above what is, and experiment daringly with the what if. This is what contemporary circus-come-dance artist Yoann Bourgeois has done with He Who Falls.

yoann bourgeois he who falls

Photograph by Géraldine Aresteanu

 This exciting young French creator goes beyond the expected, as every great artist must, and tests the boundaries of weightlessness and suspension. His six performers, predominantly limited to a large suspended wooden platform stage, explore what could be in an unpredictable universe.

The opening of the 65-minute performance is a stunning statement, as a six metre by six metre stage platform lowers slowly from the ceiling, on a tilt, to the dramatic strains of Beethoven. Sharp silhouettes of the six actors cut across the ever-moving wooden floor, adding drama to the spectacle.

As the stage whips around at ever increasing speed, the performers must find their point of balance. Frank Sinatra’s My Way accompanies their exaggerated leaning forwards or backwards that pushes the notion of gravity itself. The three men and three women, dressed in bright earth-coloured street clothes and trendy sneakers – the everyman and woman — maintain positions that seem unbelievable, as they explore centripetal and centrifugal forces. It’s a performance about physical forces and about equilibrium as much as it is about the relationship between the individuals.

A bold performance with philosophical undercurrents, He Who Falls compels the actors to adapt, defy, conquer or work together as the moving stage builds momentum. They make it look easy, but in fact their performances are mind-boggling.

The daring finale has the performers playing defiantly with the swinging stage, grabbing at an edge or ducking underneath as the huge platform lurches towards them. Like playing cat and mouse with an oncoming train, their game becomes dangerous and audible gasps waft down from the audience.

Bourgeois is a French nouveau-cirque acrobat and movement artist based in Grenoble. He created this unique circus-like theatrical work in 2014.

Do not be put off by the reference to circus material. This is a powerful, poetic, and priceless performance, created by a unique out-of-the-box thinker. It will leave you breathless!

Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (BJM)

Dance Me

Reviewed February 23, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performance February 24, 8 p.m.)


Photograph by Marc Montplaisir

Ah, Leonard Cohen! What’s not to love about this legendary poet, songwriter, singer, who gave us such memorable songs as Suzanne and So Long, Marianne, Famous Blue Raincoat, Dance Me, Hallelujah . . . His unique perspective on politics, religion, love, sex and death, and his remarkable grace, all wove their way into our lives for decade after decade after decade.

From his teens until his death at the age of 82, Cohen revealed his soul to the world through his poems and his fiction, his songs and his music.

While he knew and approved of BJM’s project, Dance Me, which Ottawa got to see Friday night, Cohen did not participate in the process and died a year before its premiere in Montreal in December.

My first thought about BJM’s ambitious project about the masterful Cohen was how could you possibly interpret the span of the man? How could you boil down Cohen’s creativity into an hour or two of dance? I mean where do you start?

Louis Robitaille, BJM’s artistic director, worked for several years on the 80-minute piece, pulling together three choreographers from around the globe: Andonis Foniadakis of the Greek National Ballet, the Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and British-born Ihsan Rustem, who is resident choreographer for the Northwest Dance Project in Portland, Oregon. The three brought their individual interpretations of Cohen’s music and words to the project, the whole of which was guided by Montreal dramaturge and stage director Eric Jean.

Jean introduced an abstract vision to the piece, as well as his own lighting, scenography and videography people. His goal was to capture Cohen’s elegance.

To be honest, I’m still undecided about this show. The tone, in terms of lighting and costumes, was right. Mostly black. Stark. Sharp lighting, sometimes blindingly bright, even a bit of strobe. The men mostly in black suits, sometimes a fedora, sometimes bare-chested with loose black pants. The women in floaty less-than-hip-length tunics, white or black, sometimes suits or pants and bras. Yes, it all has a Leonard Cohen look to it.

Of course, the music, conceived by Alexis Dumais, is all Cohen. Well, it’s not all Cohen. It’s his work, but not him. Some of it is, some of it isn’t, and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. Two pieces were sung on stage: So Long, Marianne by a young woman with a soft pretty voice, who sat demurely on a stool off to the side of the stage; and Hallelujah by a man, whose voice echoed beautifully through the auditorium, accompanied by a kneeling female vocalist. I wish I knew who they were! Both were touching performances that brought a deep stillness to the otherwise frenetic pace.


Céline Cassone and Alexander Hille perform a duet to Suzanne, Photograph by Thierry du Bois

And there were other beautiful touches, such as the duet to the infamous Suzanne, and the  voice-over reading from Cohen’s letter to “the” Marianne days before her death, when he anticipated his own would follow shortly.

But some of the images just don’t make sense to me – disembodied lips? Projections of bodies falling through space in slow-motion? Glowing red balls in the dancers’ mouths?

Or, in fact, the frenzied movement by BJM’s very physical and athletic dancers. Impressive overall performance (faltering at times), but I can’t really connect that kind of motion to the Cohen I have listened to all my life.

Nevertheless, if you’re a Cohen fan (or a BJM fan!), take in this unique show. You may be disappointed, or you may love it. But there are certain little gems that bring a worthwhile perspective to the memory of Cohen.

Daniel Léveillé Danse (DLD)

Solitudes duo

COMING to NAC Azrieli Studio, Ottawa

(February 15 through 17, 8 p.m.)

daniel leveille_avec Emmanuel Proulx_Ellen Furey

Emmanuel Proulx and Ellen Furey, Photograph by Denis Farley

Daniel Léveillé, one of Quebec’s best-known choreographers on the international scene, brings his technically powerful and sensually romantic Solitudes duo to the National Arts Centre this week.

Léveillé, who has been creating dance for 40 years, founded DLD in 1991. Since the turn of the century, he has developed a reputation for his unique approach to breaking the boundaries of movement and for presenting the (often naked) human body in all its beauty and imperfection.

In 2012, he created the forerunner to Solitudes duo: Solitudes solo, which won an award from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for the best choreographic work, had five imposing dancers explore solitude in an austere, clinical setting. His 2015 followup expands on the theme as couples connect in an exploration of the emotional paradoxes in human relationships in all their splendour and misery.

Sounds of Jean-Sébastien Bach, the harpsichord and 1970s pop rock accompany the seven dancers.

La Veronal


Reviewed February 2, 2018

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance February 3, 7:30 p.m.)

la veronal siena 2 JesúsRobisco

Photo by Jésus Robisco

Siena is a bizarre piece of theatre, conceived by Barcelona-based company La Veronal’s artistic director and choreographer Marcos Morau.

Dominated by an image of 16th-century Italian artist Tiziano Vecelli’s erotic oil painting Venus of Urbino (commonly known as Reclining Venus), the work places the 10 dancers/actors in a museum setting.

They observe (sometimes simply sitting on a bench in front of the painting or standing in a doorway) or they participate in odd activities, such as zipping a dancer into a body bag. Mostly wearing fencing gear, they interact in mysterious and unpredictable ways.

Throughout this sometimes-disturbing theatrical performance, a broken narrative is read, and accompanied by projected text in English, French and Spanish. Classical strains are layered over electronic tones.

The voice tells us, “The fact that the naked body continues to be a thing of mystery after centuries.” This might give us a clue to the choreographer’s intention, as perhaps do the program notes, which tell us Siena ”represents the passing of centuries, and how art has portrayed the human body in so many ways.”

The 65-minute work seems to find its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance era, which brought Europe out of the medieval age with a cultural rebirth. Morau’s constant search for new means of expression and cultural references and his collaborations with other artists of dance, film, photography and literature inform his creations. While still in his thirties, he has won national and international awards for his choreography.

Undoubtedly, the young Spaniard, with his experience of dance, photography and theatre, has a unique view of the cultural world, but in Siena, his presentation is awkward and somewhat ominous, taking us through jagged references to mystery, fear, war and death, leaving the observer tired and confused.

la veronal siena JesúsRobisco

Photo by Jésus Robisco

The National Ballet of Canada

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Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden as Nijinsky and his wife Romola, photo by Bruce Zinger


Reviewed January 25, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances January 26 & 27, 8 p.m.)

There is nothing quite like this phenomenal ballet tale of Vaslav Nijinsky, the world’s first famous male ballet star. Known for his very brief but brilliant career with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Nijinsky’s life nevertheless reads like a fantastic novel.

Choreographer John Neumeier, director of Germany’s Hamburg Ballet, has created this full-length work of the dancer’s life, from the point of view of what was going on in Nijinsky’s disturbed mind.

Premiered in Germany in 2000, Nijinsky was first performed by The National Ballet of Canada in 2013.

On opening night, Guillaume Côté, as Nijinsky, is the genius portraying the genius. Outstandingly confident and perfectly poised, Côté presents a superhuman strength in this brutal and exacting role. Skylar Campbell and Francesco Gabriele Frola take on the role on Friday and Saturday nights respectively.

The two-hour ballet starts and ends at the conclusion of Nijinsky’s career, when he performed his final solo at an opulent white hotel room in Switzerland. Signs of his madness were apparent by this time. The story then dissipates into fragments of memories, recalled experiences of his life, and roles he performed throughout his career, which are portrayed by a full complement of dancers.

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Photo by Erik Tomasson

By the end of the final act, we are back in the white ballroom. Everything is neat and orderly on opening, with a pianist on the stage and a small audience seated in high-backed chairs along a wall. But by final curtain we are witnessing a chaotic and unbalanced scene, the walls are askew, people are falling over the railings and Côté is spinning in a mad dance of insanity while whipping long lengths of red and black cloth around himself.


The first act, about an hour, introduces us to Diaghilev, his mentor, his inspiration and his lover, as well as some of his most famous roles – Harlequin, the Golden Slave and the Faun. Family members and his wife, in a long red gown, weave on and off the stage.

The set and the costumes, also designed by Neumeier, are classy and elegant. The Swiss ballroom is splendid and sleek. Gentlemen in top hats and women in glamorous gowns turn the clocks back a hundred years.

The choreography is complex, and it works. We get a sense of who Nijinsky was as a dancer and as a man. In a duet with Ben Rudisin as Diaghilev, the pas de deux is intimate and poignant, serenaded by solemn strings. In a later partnering with his wife, danced by Heather Ogden (Côté’s wife in real life), the tone is more playful and light.

Act Two becomes a stark and sombre setting, with more minimal props. Nijinsky’s tangled memories and hallucinations blur. The dancers are folded into each other in enormous oddly shaped clumps. They become a shadowy collective. There’s a war theme to reflect the backdrop of the First World War against which Nijinsky’s career comes to an end. Most of the dancers wear military jackets or uniforms, they become an unruly flailing mob, and the orchestra plays strong dissonant tones, with plenty of percussion and rolling drums.


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Guillaume Côté, photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

A rough-and-tumble tortured solo, where Côté literally throws himself around the stage, follows a tormented duet with his wife.

It’s a serious ballet story of a serious and tragic life. Born into a family of dancers (both parents, his older brother and younger sister all danced), the Polish-born Nijinsky trained and starred in what was then the pre-eminent Imperial Ballet School in Russia.

His performing style was unique and intense. He was eccentric and bold and virtually superhuman on the stage. He even danced en pointe (irregular for a male dancer). Although his later choreographic career was generally unsuccessful, his L’après-midi d’un faune, based on composer Claude Debussy’s symphonic poem for orchestra, and the avant-garde Le Sacre du Printemps to an accompaniment by Igor Stravinsky in the early 1900s pushed artistic boundaries and were very controversial at the time.

His personal life was fraught with drama. A wild and undisciplined child, a lover of Diaghilev and married to a Hungarian aristocrat, who stalked him obsessively, Nijinsky gradually descended into madness (diagnosed with schizophrenia before he was 30), and spent the last half of his life in and out of institutions.

His life and his work have been written about extensively, in plays, in films, in poetry and in novels. Composers and artists have been inspired by him. A Russian figure skater immortalized him in a skating routine.

But it is only fitting that he would be honoured in the ballet world.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

nutcracker rwbThe Nutcracker

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Performances December 6 through 10, 7 p.m., plus Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m.)

With Christmas only two or three weeks away, what better way to get into the spirit of the season than taking in The Nutcracker ballet!

The nostalgic version the Royal Winnipeg Ballet brings to the National Arts Centre this year is a truly Canadian one with prancing polar bear cubs, Royal Canadian Mounted Police dolls, Bay blankets, a street hockey game, a snow-filled sky brushed with the Northern Lights, and a backdrop of Parliament Hill.

Nevertheless, the story still reflects all the magic of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann, even though it is set in 1913 Canada six months before the First World War. What this means for the story is we have a boyfriend arriving for the Christmas party from Montreal, dressed in military uniform, and the Christmas tree is lit with electric lights for the first time.

Tickets are already nearly sold out. Try not to miss this whimsical ballet, replete with its magical Christmas Eve, its sword-wielding mice, its toy soldiers battling by moonlight and its wintry pine forest. And, of course, the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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