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Shanghai Ballet

GISELLE

Reviewed November 10, 2016

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances Friday & Saturday, Nov 11&12, 8 p.m.)

shanghai-ballet-giselle

Giselle is to dance what Hamlet is to theatre. All the great ballerinas – Pavlova, Karsavina, Spessivtzeva, Markova – have performed the lead role. Royal Ballet’s Merle Park, who danced Giselle in 1970, was said to be one of the greatest and most powerful in the role.

And it’s significant to note how challenging a role Giselle is: the dancer must portray a simple, innocent, young peasant girl, a lover who goes mad with grief (and dies) and, finally, a supernatural ghostly being.

On Thursday night, Qi Bingxue presented a featherweight Giselle (and will dance Giselle again on Saturday). I don’t believe I ever heard her toe shoes touch the stage. Such an airy presence was she, delightful as the happy-go-lucky peasant girl in love, somewhat creepy as she came all undone with insanity at the end of the first act, and lovely and ethereal as a “Wili,” a doomed ghostly victim of an unfaithful lover.

As far as the story goes, she is not alone after death. Twenty such Wilis, as well as their queen, Myrtha (another challenging role for this ballet, danced beautifully by the long-limbed Xiang Yang) dominate the second act. Here this dramatic Romantic ballet moves into the supernatural realm, with the woodland scene taking on a blue-grey wash. The stage overflows with the wispy magical creatures, dressed in long white tulle dresses with crowns of white flowers on their dark hair, all moving in precise and perfect harmony, a parade of beautiful, unattainable, and dangerous zombie mourners.

The story in brief: young girl – Giselle — catches the eye of two young men, one a gamekeeper and the other a count. The latter, however, disguises himself as a peasant, but Giselle, nevertheless, is smitten and dances us through her demure response to his overtures to her blissful and intimate romp with her lover. Enter gamekeeper in an effort to reveal the count’s deception. And enter a royal hunting party, which includes the princess to which the count is engaged. The revelation spins our heroine out of control, her dark hair tumbles over her pale aghast countenance and she dies in her mother’s arms.

Okay, overly dramatic for sure, but the stuff of a great story ballet. And then the eerie second act has both lovers at Giselle’s grave (not at the same time), and the ghostly Wilis who force first the gamekeeper to dance to his death and then attempt to do the same to the count. Giselle intervenes, however, and though he must dance to exhaustion, the break of day calls away the spectral maidens, including Giselle, and the count is saved but bereft.

First choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli in 1841, Giselle has come down to us through one ballet company after another, reworked, revised, but always popular. Shanghai Ballet, the state ballet company for Shanghai that has been around for 50 years in one form or another, is known for blending traditional and Western dance styles and tours extensively around the world. This is the first time it has come to Ottawa in nearly 30 years. Go see it!

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Dorrance Dance

ETM: Double Down

Reviewed October 14, 2016

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance Saturday, Oct 15, 7:30 p.m.)

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Ephrat Asherie in Dorrance Dance’s ETM: Double Down

Where do you go when you’ve perfected tap dancing? You make it cool. You make it sexy. And if you’re Michelle Dorrance, who has pretty much tap danced her entire life, you make it wow audiences in new, inventive and unique ways.

The American dancer and choreographer’s brand new work, ETM: Double Down, is a dynamic, energetic, evening-length dance presentation that shows off what’s she’s best at: demonstrating her superb tap dancing technique as well as her creativeness at collaborating with matchless dancers and musicians.

This particular collaboration, a reworked version of ETM: An Initial Approach, which was dorrance-dance-1presented at Jacob’s Pillow dance festival in 2012, shows the shades and tones of tap dancing that go so far beyond the traditional boundaries. It explores brave new worlds that re-invent music and movement and the collision of the two art forms.

Co-created with fellow American dancer, musician and choreographer Nicholas Van Young, ETM features a series of trigger boards – wooden drum pads – upon which the performers dance, triggering sounds or switching on recorded samples. Van Young explains he had “visions of several dancers across a number of platforms and boards, dancing out elaborate choreographed phrases while simultaneously playing the musical composition.”

The result is outstanding. It’s wildly unique and yet so finely polished, the performers take us into unseen and unimagined worlds where we can only delight in the sonic potential of tapping feet and accompanying instruments – predominantly played live on stage.

The performers – tap dancers, b-girl Ephrat Asherie, drummers and stringed instrument musicians – wow us with the ease in which they communicate unbridled and unstoppable rhythm.

The 100-minute work (with an intermission) also features vocalist/chanter Aaron Marcellus in the second half of the show. His haunting voice echoes through the auditorium like silken threads, carrying the sound of air, wind and ocean across space and time.

Voetvolk

AH|HA

Reviewed October 6, 2016

NAC Studio, Ottawa

(Repeat performances Friday & Saturday, Oct 7 & 8, 8 p.m.)

voetvolk-ah_ha_1-copyAH|HA is one of the oddest dance performances I’ve seen: an infectious, bizarre, push-pull piece of brilliance really, from a fairly new Belgian choreographer called Lisbeth Gruwez. Her company Voetvolk, co-founded with composer/musician Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, has been on the European dance scene for less than a decade and AH|HA is its first group piece, for five dancers, produced in 2014.

Two men and three women, including Gruwez, begin the performance standing in random positions on a large green screen on the floor and wall. Their clothing is random – it’s just what they put on today. And the energy of the work is random, primarily driven by the quiet rhythmic ticking accompaniment composed by Van Cauwenberghe.

The peculiar ticking, which gradually becomes louder and begins to sound like a rusty spring or a snorting pig, connects the five dancers’ bodies, which gradually congregate in the middle of the stage, as if magnets have exerted enough force to pull them together. Throughout, their movement is in extreme slow motion.

In fact, there is an “extreme” energy about the whole one-hour work. The dancers’ repetitive jiggling becomes more pronounced as the accompaniment deepens and then they begin to laugh. Bursts, guffaws, gasps, and spits of laughter. The movement of laughter is the focus more than the sound of it. The side-splitting exertions, the thigh slapping, the head throws, the pulsing shoulders, the jerking arms . . . until the wildly thrusting gestures compress the group of dancers into a tight knot, their arms and hands thrusting wildly upwards.

As the sound weaves in and out of quiet to ear-splitting, and lighting focuses from bright to dim, the dancers’ movements follow a trajectory of calm bouncing to spasmodic jerking. When the sound finally stops, the dancers stop, smile broadly – eliciting spontaneous giggles from the audience – and finally break into maniacal laughter. It’s all very infectious and physical.

And the line between laughter and tears slowly blurs. Expressions of hilarity or grief seem painfully similar. Displaying the extremes of emotion, the performers’ faces become paintings of sadness, shock, despair, pain and mirth. Until the raw passion thrusts them together again into a clinging, empathetic embrace, locked in a loving – even sexual – togetherness, as if the five are experiencing a moment of ecstasy as one living being.

The work appears to capture random moments of passion in a photograph snapped in a split second of time. The ending is a surprise one: funny, witty and engaging.

Companhia Urbana de Dança

ID: Entidades, Na Pista

Reviewed April 21, 2016

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Second performance Friday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.)

Companhia Urbana

Companhia Urbana, Photography by Alice Gebura

Brazilian dance troupes are rounding out the 2015-2016 dance season with a bang!

Relatively new, and certainly new to the North American dance scene, Companhia Urbana de Dança is a rugged group of nine dancers – eight men and a woman – who mostly come from the “favelas” or rough shanty towns of  Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. Held together by artistic director and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie, who has a deep cultural background that includes ballet, musicals and theatre, the 12-year-old troupe embraces elements of hip-hop, b-boy and contemporary dance, as well as Brazilian social dance.

And it is one high-energy, dynamically vibrant group of performers who showcase their eclectic talents in a uniquely fascinating way!

ID: Entidades introduces us to the eight dancers presenting two of the company’s works this week in Ottawa. At the beginning, focused beams of light that cut only through the middle of the darkened stage highlight the dancers’ torsos, heads and arms, leaving their legs and feet unseen. It’s as if we have only a glimpse of their world, unable to see the whole. Even when the lights come up, the focus remains on the performers – their rhythm and their energy – who are clad in indistinct black costumes.

The fascinating part of this 42-minute work, created in 2009, is how it transitions, through Rodrigo Marçal’s original music and the dancers’ movements, into different styles, weaving into an integrated whole while maintaining a refreshing spontaneity.

Certainly the gem of the program is Na Pista (on the track), a newer work that explores the individual dancers’ roots and the inspiration that comes from the streets of Rio. The seven men and one woman bring their full-blown personalities to the audience, with loud chatter and bravura. Playing an enlivened game of musical chairs under a disco ball, these dancers take themselves and their talent seriously, but they bring fun, playfulness and an unbelievably hot energy to the theatre. Appealing to young and old alike, their undeniable love of life had Thursday’s audience on their feet and even dancing in the aisles.

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Sao Paulo Companhia de Danca performs Nacho Duato’s “Gnawa” next week, Photography by Paula Caldas

IF YOU’RE STILL IN THE BRAZILIAN MOOD NEXT WEEK, don’t miss the Canadian premiere of São Paulo Companhia de Dança, which brings three works to Southam Hall on Tuesday, April 26. On the program is a high-speed work for 12 dancers, created by Montreal’s own choreographer Édouard Lock, founder of La La La Human Steps, called The Seasons. Set to a reinterpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Lock’s work integrates dance, music, scenery and light in a disorienting and dizzying performance. The other two works are Mamihlapinatapai,  a deconstruction of ballroom dancing created by Brazilian choreographer Jomar Mesquita about the desire for love; and Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato’s Gnawa, an exploration of the Mediterranean’s sensuality and spirituality accompanied by Spanish and North African music.

Can’t wait to see it!

 

The National Ballet of Canada

La Sylphide

Reviewed April 7, 2016

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances through to April 9, 8 p.m.)

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Jurgita Dronina as the Sylphide, Photography by Aleksandar Antonijevic

La Sylphide is one of those ballets always worth watching. One of the oldest, created by the acclaimed Danish choreographer August Bournonville 180 years ago, the ballet is classical French tradition infused with Bournonville’s distinctive quick-footed, joyful style. This week, the National Ballet premieres Johan Kobborg’s impressive version of this iconic romantic classic in Ottawa.

The two-act ballet is not long – just over an hour and a half – and its fast pace and beautiful set and costumes designed by the award-winning Desmond Heeley will keep you more than satisfactorily entertained.

Accompanied by 19th century Norwegian composer Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s melodious score, performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra, La Sylphide requires strong and challenging performances from its principals and corps. On Thursday, Francesco Gabriele Frola and Piotr Stanczyk danced the major male roles of James and his rival Gurn respectively, the latter particularly impressive with his powerful and energetic leaps. Jurgita Dronina was a fluently expressive and mischievous sylphide, while Meghan Pugh was a charming, demure Effie, James’s fiancée and later Gurn’s bride. Sonia Rodriguez played the evil sorceress Madge, bringing her own bewitching craziness to the part.

As old as the story is, and mystical in its tale of enchantment of a young Scotsman on his wedding day by a diaphanous wood spirit, the yarn is indeed a timeless one: detached groom enticed by unattainable woman forsakes the one who loves him for her, only to lose them both. The message could well be A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush. Nevertheless, the story ballet, rife with prettily clad reeling wedding guests, musicians, servants, witches and wood nymphs, draws us back in time to this dream world where we can believe in magical sylphs.

The men in plaid kilts, velvet jackets and argyle socks, the women in pastel tea-party frocks and brilliant calf-length tutus, and the witches in their gloomy rags fill the stage with colour and frolic. There is a beautiful contrast when James joins the sylphs in their sunlit forest glade – he all energy and sharpness, the women all grace and light-footedness.

All in all, the ballet is picturesque and the performance admirably dancey.

2016-2017 DANCE SEASON PREVIEW

hubbard street chicago

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago brings a mixed program to the NAC in November

Several Canadian dance artists will be highlighted during the 2016-2017 dance season at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in preparation for Canada’s celebration of its 150th anniversary. In fact, the NAC has commissioned three pairs of choreographers and composers to create entirely new contemporary one-act ballets for a performance in April 2017.

The show will be called ENCOUNT3RS and will feature NAC music director Alexander Shelley as conductor of the NAC Orchestra. The three creative teams are Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar with Saskatchewan native Nicole Lizée, Alberta Ballet’s Jean Grand-Maître with Alberta-born composer Andrew Staniland, and National Ballet choreographic associate Guillaume Coté with emerging composer Kevin Lau.

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Les Ballets Trockadero, Monte Carlo’s all-male comic ballet troupe, performs at the NAC next February

In March 2017, three associate dance artists, under the NAC’s Associate Dance Artists program, will present a special evening featuring works by Marie Chouinard, Crystal Pite and Christopher House.

SOMETHING NEW – first time coming to the NAC:

Compagnie Hervé Koubi (from France)(April 2017)

Gauthier Dance (from Germany, founded by Canadian dancer Eric Gauthier)

Dorrance Dance (from United States)

Lisbeth Gruwez (from Belgium)(October 2016)

Alessandro Sciarroni (from Italy)(February 2017)

 

ALSO COMING NEXT SEASON:

Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal (May 2017)

The National Ballet of Canada: Onegin, a romantic classic (January 2017)

Virginie Brunelle (of Montreal)(April 2017)

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his company Eastman (from Belgium)(November 2016)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (November 2016)

Batsheva (of Israel) (January 2017)

Shanghai Ballet (who last visited Ottawa in 1989): Giselle, a classical story of love and betrayal (November 2016)

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (February 2017)

Albert Ballet:  The Nutcracker (December 2016)

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Shanghai Ballet will dance the classical Giselle in Ottawa this November

 

“Dance is a language that speaks in any tongue,” says NAC dance executive producer Cathy Levy. “It is theatre, music, movement, and design wrapped into one mysterious art form, sometimes hard to pin down but always ready to capture.”

 

 

Hong Kong Ballet

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The Sleeping Beauty, Photography by Gordon Wong

The Sleeping Beauty

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Performances March 3 through 5, 8 p.m.)

The Sleeping Beauty is one of the purest classical ballets, dating back to 1890 Russia, when choreographer Marius Petipa presented the work at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre to Tachaikosky’s score. It went on to become one of the Imperial Ballet’s most popular and Petipa’s most enduring works.

The Sleeping Beauty is set in a faraway kingdom long, long ago, when Bad Fairy Carabosse casts a spell on the beloved Princess Aurora, cursing her to die on her 16th birthday. Good Fairy Lilac comes to the rescue by transforming the curse into a modified version, whereby the entire kingdom goes to sleep for a hundred years. At the end of the century-long nap, Prince Désiré rides in to save the day, and the princess, and they live happily ever after.hong kong ballet fairy tale characters

Hong Kong Ballet’s version is a relatively new production, stylized in 2010 by Cynthia Harvey, a former American Ballet Theatre and Royal Ballet dancer. Her staging is elegant, Mark Bailey’s costumes are beautiful rich reds and golds and glittering pastels, and his set magnificent.

The cast of magical characters include the White Cat, Puss in Boots, the Blue Bird, Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf, as well as exotic princes and light-footed fairies.

Set to one of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s most popular scores, played by the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the baton of Hong Kong-born Canadian conductor Judith Yan, the ballet also features some 20 young local dancers as monsters, courtiers, hunting ladies and pages.

hong kong ballet monstersDon’t miss this enchanting classic story ballet — a true visual spectacle, appealing to children and adult dance aficionados alike.

 

 

 

 

 

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