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Flash Review 3, 5-2: My Man Pinkerton
NBC's van der Wyst Takes Toronto
By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson
TORONTO -- The National Ballet of
Canada on Friday presented Balanchine's "Serenade" and Stanton Welch's "Madame
Butterfly" to a full and appreciative house at the Hummingbird. An evening of
many debut performances, April 28 may be noted as the day Geon van der Wyst won
me over in the role of Pinkerton, and as the day I came to grips with my growing
apathy for Balanchine, and Balanchine-esque ballet, through no particular fault
of the NB of Canada.
The set design of "Madame Butterfly"
by Peter Farmer and lighting by Christopher Dennis complemented beautifully the
ever-famous Puccini score (adapted from the opera, for this version, by John Lanchbery).
The use of sepia tones, muted greens, and yellows, suitable for the turn-of-the-century
atmosphere of set and costume, was warm and restful, allowing the characters to
be the true focus. Especially beautiful were the screens, fans of every size and
glowing paper lanterns. Spectacular!
Chan Hon Goh as Cio-Cio-San (a.k.a.
Madame Butterfly) was nothing short of sublime. Rebekah Rimsay as Suzuki provided
the requisite confidante/maid steadfast strength and an endearing harmonious balance
to Ms. Hon Goh, both physically and emotionally. Richard Landry with great allegro
in the thankless role of Goro, the "obsequious marriage broker and general factotum,"
did a remarkable job (even though I found myself dreaming of ways to make the
balding-imperial-fringe wig he was given more natural looking). Jeremy Ransom,
as Sharpless, the U.S. Consul in Nagasaki, again charmed me with his fluid acting
skill that seems to live inside his every movement. Mr. Ransom dances from within,
similar to the way Martine Lamy appears to approach her characters: internally,
not as an add-on to the steps. This evening in the role of Kate, Pinkerton's American
wife, the woman we would love to hate, Ms Lamy brought us to compassion. As Kate
asks to rob Butterfly of her precious child, and Pinkerton the fink flees the
scene, leaving the others to sort out his doings, the considerable acting skill
of these dancers is terrific. While familiar with the classic tale, the emotion
in this relatively short culminating scene of tragedy was presented beautifully
and subtly. The overall effect was a very successful emotional crescendo.
Not self-conscious, Stanton Welch's
choreography is transparently engaging: it serves the story, not vice-versa. My
focus remained with character, not steps, and the local-colour of Japanese style
did not tumble into total cliche. The pas de deux of Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San
is quite magical even though it is inevitably a seduction scene with tragedy clicking
quick on its heels. You can't 'blame' Mr. Welch for the awful imbalance of power
between the lovers (carefree conqueror and trusting victim) but there were too
many lifts for my taste. I would have preferred more of a terrestrial exchange
between the lovers.
The other thing about this duet,
and particularly Mr. van der Wyst dancing with Ms. Hon Goh, is what I'll call
the "Imax effect." Strapping tall blond that he is, carrying his elegant whispy
lover, I wondered when she might continue on up into the lighting track. As though
banking over a mountain side in the hang-glider on the Imax screen, I found myself
moving involuntarily in my seat to re-center hips-over-head, or shift or grip
on behalf of Ms Hon Go....There is a natural amount of daring involved in all
of this, but I should not "feel" the precarity. Ms. Hon Goh did not for a milli-second
give the impression of a lack of confidence in her partner, but continued to soar.
Amazingly. (We saw a similar situation between van der Wyst and the taller Greta
Hodgkinson in "Serenade," where her open palms brushed the floor.)
Mr. van der Wyst displayed energetic
bravado in his dancing but more importantly, and what impressed me most, was the
smooth attachment he had with his demanding role as the callous, naive, selfish
and charming American soldier. He really held onto it throughout. Similarly, Ms.
Hon Goh was feathery and loving and then betrayed, crazed and suicidal. Her squeaky-clean
technique and open-hearted presence make her wonderful to watch.
One final note about the Pinkerton-Butterfly
post-wedding seduction pas de deux: When was the last time your lover held you
high, arms stretched straight up, your body lying back, draped across two palms
like a trophy statue poised above an expectant futon? As the gesture of the valiant
Pinkerton it sure fits. Fine and dandy. But it is plain funny to consider for
more than two seconds, and it is the most literally over-the-top thing I've seen
On to "Serenade" then, which was
actually first on. We have your light blue tulle Sylphide-length dresses, high
chignons, the men in Wedgwood blue, against a Wedgwood background. (Costumes provided
by Ballet Arizona.) Curtain rises on the corps of 20-odd dancers and we are of
course in for a good stretch of classical, classical rows of people, meaningless
meetings and departures, groups, duets etc. We know Mr. Balanchine said it's plotless.
No argument here. Tunes are by Tchaikovsky -- Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra.
Especially glowing and marvelous
was Greta Hodgkinson as "Russian Girl." She makes it look so easy.
In the first five minutes or so of
"Serenade," there were uncharacteristic hiccups in the total synchronicity of
the corps. This is unfortunate since picture-pretty is what this spectacle is
all about. Things did tighten up quite nicely however, as Rex Harrington and the
corps delighted us with gaiety of clean ensemble dancing at its best. The various
portraits of Stephanie Hutchinson, Greta Hodgkinson and Xiao Nan Yu dancing together
were also particularly sumptuous. Long black hair and long dark red hair released
from their chignons and allowed to spill over lovely shoulders and chime in with
graceful limbs produced an incredibly beautiful effect.
For this on-the-whole quite gratifying
evening, we had a trio of talented Aussies to thank: Ormsby Wilkins, music director
and principal conductor; Stanton Welch; and the Pinkerton we love to loathe, Geon
van der Wyst. Cheers mate! If I had tickets to give to new audience members, I'd
most certainly suggest the National Ballet of Canada's "Madame Butterfly" as an
engaging and spectacular initiation to the world of classical dance.
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