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Flash Review, 2-15: Dreaming with Solitude
NBC Program Mixes Humor and Angst

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- Frederick Ashton's "The Dream," a classic, and Jean-Pierre Perrault's "The Comforts of Solitude," a premiere, were performed to a full house at the Hummingbird Centre by the National Ballet of Canada last night. Was it "Dreamy?" Yes, in a classical neat-feet-and-fairies kind of way. Was the second piece "Comfortable?" No.

Let's note the wry humor of scheduling a magical silly-love story with societal uber-angst. A "Valentine" for sure. Entertaining? Yes indeed. "The Comforts of Solitude" is gripping in the way that Art in general can be, especially contemporary art. You are prompted as you gaze (jaw dropped) to ask pertinent and interesting questions of yourself (there's nothing else to do). You proceed to reject your own answers and then wonder who the hell asked in the first place. This is not about pleasure. We are in the realm of Substance, of Message. In the ten seconds following the piece, there were whoops of "bravo" and a simultaneous swoosh of a few dozen feet to the exit. Keen to get out of the parking lot? Perhaps, but also I'd venture they were subliminally keen to just get out and remember that there are beings without deep-rooted desires for a shoulder, a clasp, a group, a clump of angular sad people searching for...um, solitude? Hope exists in relationships and in solitude, as does slippery goofy joy, color and, while we're at it, way better-looking skirt-lengths... Oh God, what does it all mean!?

"The Dream," based on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," to music written by a 17-year old Mendelssohn, was pretty, pleasant, simple, lilting and feathery. That's all. I cannot say that I was sent to the pantheon of wonder and back, but I enjoyed it well enough. This is immortal because choreographed for the Royal Ballet and since then performed by many. It is truly endearing. I would have loved to see more linger and lightness, as opposed to firefly rapidity. The corps of fairies, lovely and green with flounce and wings, sometimes seemed rushed.

Titania, danced by Martine Lamy, was delightful. Lamy is in character from the tip of her curls to her fairy-queen toes. During the last ten minutes or so, when the otherwise rather uninspiring choreography finally allows it, she soars fully. Somehow she manages to be a fairy queen and to offer joy, giggle and sensuality at once -- especially through her supple upper back and arms. Quite simply: if world peace depended on a dancer's consistent elegant easy-strength, quality and soulful artistry, I'd sign up Martine Lamy to be sure it all came through. No problem. Did I mention this was her debut in this role!?

Now, some of the cohorts. Richard Landry was Puck, also making his debut this evening. A demanding role, it does showcase this dancer's acting chops as well as his inspirational allegro. Landry never gave a moment of doubt that his appearance would be anything but sweet and successful. There was however the silly repetition of "flick of wrists and shoulder shrug." Required, I suppose, to show abandon to the world of magic. Also, who really needs to end pirouettes on plie demi-pointe? It is not half as effective as it is difficult.

Matjash Mrozewski was equally captivating and very successful on full pointe wearing the Ass's head. Much audience glee, especially from the children. Very well done. I totally enjoyed him, especially when he returns again sans animal accoutrement.

This evening was the Canadian debut of the notably beautiful, recently arrived Australian dancer Geon Van der Wyst as Oberon, fairy king. His performance was captivating but a bit underwhelming. The lines are there, the presence is most definitely there (and then some !), the ability and the grace and the stature and everything of the sort. But unfortunately, I could see the some of the seams of the work too. I was distracted by what may be chalked up to style, but what is perhaps technical edges. Here and there a (1,2,3) preparation for pirouette was visible, as was a pause-linger before the posee, a knee sneaking forward in passe. Occasionally I wondered if the fairy queen was feeling entirely pampered by her sweetheart of a king. Connection? I yearn now to see Mr. Van der Wyst in a different piece. I know this is not it. I am sure this all flows gorgeously.

"The Comforts of Solitude" is not fun. It is (pick any or all of the following): a) ground-breaking, b) a surprise, c) a serious pain-in-the-ass d) a reminder to the cast that dance is work no matter how much you love it, and finally, of course, e) a portrait of Mr. Perrault's current emotions and his bleak genial vision of us all.

The original score, by Bertrand Chenier, is beautiful and reminds me of Philip Glass in tone. Mr. Chenier composes for film soundtracks, among other things, which makes perfect sense considering the terrific use of silence and of pace. I could imagine through the music and, frankly, despite the dance, an intrigue of a cinematographic type: a lover returns with food; someone cracks a safe; a beautiful woman walks in the street, alone; we love her....

The dancers wear black contemporary street clothes (suits, dresses, cardigans, jackets) with pumps, and oxfords for the men and a few women; not surprising vestment for a Perrault work. The cast was hand-chosen for their "strong personalities." There are veterans and new-comers, and none of them fades into the background at all. There is no turn-out, or steps, and with measured stillness interspersed, it all moves like traffic, or blood. The back third of the stage is ramped, raked, and used very well. The backdrop is divided vertically to form two huge squares, one half red, the other gray-taupe. The red half looks like the inside of a cheek illuminated by a flashlight, clots of thicker flesh being darker. It's offsetting.

Moments after the beginning I note that I am worried about them all. Limbs are flailing, flexed, a mess. Much walking, gripping, hugging and holding devoid of open warmth. Various compositions of groups: men, women, couples, etc. and notably a trio that finally has the chance to dance with some flow, for moments only, alas (Rex Harrington, Greta Hodgkinson, and Christopher Body).

Mr. Perrault, based in Montreal, is also a visual artist and has an extensive and impressive international career, most recently due to his choreography of "Joe." He works by sketches and scenes, not through pre-choreographed steps or even a scenario.

The dancers worked alongside him through the entire creation of "The Comforts of Solitude." He asked them not to dance steps, but to be motivated from inside. This feeling is transmitted very effectively. I may not be in love with "Comforts" as a dance, but the artistry, the purity of what he is trying to achieve is definitely there. It is impressive in its starkness and honest anxiety -- whatever that may mean to the beholder. I'll take into consideration therefore Mr. Perrault's visual arts background and venture to describe what this particular choreography felt like to me as performed on the NB of C dancers. Imagine a bare canvas. It's perfectly stretched, the surface impeccable. The gesso or rabbit-glue preparation seamlessly covers threads of the finest linen and dozens of nails are pulling taught every fiber around the edge of the wood frame. Tubes of the very finest oil paint you can find are aligned and opened. The canvas waits. The oils glisten in rounds of metal mouths.

You want to portray society, a feeling, people, relationships, a notion inside and you place a few colorful tubes between your feet, lie down on the floor in front of the huge canvas and squishhhh! Ah! And on you go merrily with various techniques and tools; a knife, a toothbrush.... (Bear with me on the "dancer as a fine oil paint.") Excellent fun for you, the painter, but I'm not so sure how the tubes of exquisite paint figure in the scene, or would consider their journey with any refinement or satisfaction. Okay, paint and canvas aside, it's all liberating and holds high qualities in the finished product that are undeniable. I am impressed in the end. Hey, the finest is the finest. No matter how you slather it on, it's almost certainly going to become some form of innovative and gorgeous, albeit unappealing. Is this thing for the creator or the audience? (I won't even ask about the dancers.)

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