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Flash Review 2, 11-13: Back Seat for Balanchine at NBC
Oh, Canada! "Mozartiana" Eclipsed by MacMillan and Kudelka

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- One fine day in the '80s Meatloaf sang "Two outta three ain't bad," and ditto for the squeaky-clean mixed program offered by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird, a.k.a. Humbling-bird Friday. James Kudelka's "Pastorale" and Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Solitaire" shone so bright that in comparison, Balanchine's "Mozartiana" was rather unjustly muted. As my uber-charm companion of the eve AC justly pointed out, if we would have seen only the first piece, "Mozartiana," we would have been happy. "Pastorale," now eleven years old, is pure charm, taffeta on wheels with perfect messes of dancers, lots of them on stage at once, interesting syncopation, and style galore. "Solitaire" is as yummy, quirky, inspirational and frankly Brit-retro as a summer picnic basket filled with hams, Pims and turquoise melmac. The colors, the tone and an outstanding performance by Rebekah Rimsay made it one of my faves in recent memory.

"Mozartiana," Balanchine's second ballet set to Tchaikovsky;s homage to Mozart Suite No.4, Mozartiana, Op. 61, was staged here by Suzanne Farrell. Greta Hodgkinson and Geon van der Wyst took the principal roles, in debuts for both. Again Hodgkinson amazed me with her impeccable ease and assurance, and, alas, again van der Wyst amazed me with solid presence and a lack of polish in the technique department. I can't get past his seeming air of nonchalance. He's quite tall and handsome, but that that shouldn't preclude stretching a foot to its ultimate. Roles requiring acting are more his forte since, for me, the unfortunate Imax effect was back, i.e. me wiggling fitfully in my chair on his behalf. It's a ridiculous thing to do and I was starting to frighten AC; both of which are not good for my social development. All I want for Christmas is a tight fifth, clean finish, and a cou de pied that hits the, um, 'cou.' To my mind, this now consistent insufficiency is totally unacceptable from a principal dancer. I also note however that Julie Hay and friends, including students from the National Ballet School, were picture perfect and the whole portrait, long phrases and swooping Balanchine experience was quite delicious.

And in the scrumptious treats department we have: Kudelka's choreography to Beethoven's 6th Symphony, Obus 68 in F Major, or, to good friends, the infamous "Pastorale." I could have done without parts of the set, by Santo Loquasto (who last season filled the "Firebird" set with gymnasium risers), but the huge tree branches backdrop did give us the season, tone and setting. They also made me wonder if the 18th-century black and white finery was a disguise for birds on the big branch. Oh, it doesn't matter.

Most impressive were Ryan Boorne and Sonia Rodriguez, who dance beautifully together. Boorne's partnering is generous and precise and somehow, with no pretension, he always manages to look like he was put on this earth to be on stage. His presence is calming, engaging and unusually layered, even in a piece with seemingly little to do in the way of character. Brenda Little and William Marrie, he being awesomely precise and strong, were remarkably lyrical, and Martine Lamy and Rex Harrington had suitably energetic and juicy choreography they could sink their teeth into, even though their duo seemed rather brief. Xiao Nan Yu and Harrington were loving and lovely, indeed; but the brief solo walk-about by Xiao Nan Yu left one pondering its significance. Whether it was meant to show longing, solace, or plenitude, or explore something like, Why are we here on this branch?, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, "Pastoral" presents such beautiful choreography that I could watch for hours and never get tired of it. It is classical, but creative and clever. The use of older dancers as well as students was particularly well done. I did wonder a bit about the necessity of giving the older dancers the 'silly' aspect, i.e. giving some buffoonish material to the very young and rather older dancers, character dance as it may be, and uniquely the more serious dancer-stuff to the others. The kids gave incredible energy and were truly remarkable in their precision, even without considering their young age.

"Solitaire" was created in 1956 for the Royal Ballet and performed by the National Ballet of Canada for the first time 1965 in Washington, with Lynn Seymour as guest artist. The ballet's narrative concerns the bittersweet adventures of a "wallflower" who, even in the happiest of circles, always feels alone. At the end she is left alone again, as her companions rush off to enjoy life's pleasures. Technique dissolved: Rimsay lived the role. And as AC noted (and I mean literally noted) retro is chic, and this performance allows the retro to come alive without poking fun or using irony. No winks here, just good mid-century fun and innocence. Special kudos to Je-an Salas, who gave such quirky character to and imbued such incredible fun in her Polka Girl that it made me want to grab my turquoise skater dress so I could flounce and goof around with her. The orange shock of Rimsay's skater-style dress looks yucky at curtain, but is fabulous when we see the use of turquoise and blues in the costuming for the friends, also garbed in sleeveless skater dresses and clean retro garb. As they rally around this adorable loner, it is particularly impressive to see the flow of this piece. I was entranced and so impressed with Rimsay.

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