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Flash Review 3, 9-22:
Dancers Making Dances
By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2000 Shena Wilson
TORONTO -- The National
Ballet of Canada presented its "Choreographic Workshop" at Toronto's
Betty Oliphant Theatre last night. Artistic Director James Kudelka
explained, at a post-performance reception in studios A and B at
the NB school on Maitland Street, that the unfortunate cancellation
of the company tour to China this year meant that there was sufficient
time to delve into the creation of pieces for this workshop. Our
gain. This was a prime and rather unique opportunity for the company
dancers to become creators, and they met the challenge head on.
A program composed of eleven pieces took the audience through the
gamut of nearly every possible human emotion, from longing, to love,
to angst, to anger and onward. (This was not a short program.)
NB second soloist, created "Cycle," to the slightly dissonant and
yet melodic strings of "String Quartet" from Hopping the Twig, by
Owen Belton. Tanya Evidente, dancing on pointe with the ever-generous
and solidly engaging Christopher Body, succeeded in conveying terrific
longing, melancholy, and love, without allowing the flow of technique
to ebb, even slightly. So complete was the mesh of expression and
technique that we could not detach the emotion from the dancing,
or vice versa. This is simply one of the most moving short contemporary
ballet pieces I have ever seen.
From misty eyed to sea
mist: Laura Bolton offered "Can't Stand the Rain." Ahoy! This is
a giggle of a piece, with heart. A flat translucent square swing-like
thing dangles and eventually rises to become the sun at the end
of the piece. Two women, dressed in simple black dresses and armed
with plastic spray bottles prance on, into, across and through the
piece offering misty mists and various interaction with a man and
woman dressed in yellow rain jackets. These, shall we say, 'fishermen'
look through 'binoculars,' steal a fifth dancer's umbrella, which
upsets her, the four others torment her in a schoolyard 'gonna get
you' fashion and on we go until the mists part, the sun comes up
and the umbrella person is warmed again. Sweet, witty, fun and it
works in a stylish contemporary swirl of neat feet, uncomplicated
expressions and clean direction.
and performed by Avinoam Silverman to straining piano and violin
music arranged by Guillaume Cote, reminds me that if A is for Angst,
then change is good. (Yes, I know that doesn't quite make sense...
no matter.) Dressed in orange leggings and a tie-in-the-back green
hospital gown, Silverman promptly leads us to deduce that this is
a permanent resident of, shall we say, ward 3B (or the psychiatric
unit nearest you). And this look at 'crazy' is not funny. In the
least. Even considering a moment of light interaction with a white
teddy bear (red heart on its chest), that waits downstage right,
this is serious. The atmosphere is such that I found myself scrutinizing
the dim object that was the teddy bear, convinced from time to time
that it was actually a large, slightly bloodied severed hand wrapped
in gauze. Much dissonance, head in hands silent-scream, and muttering,
followed by brief respite. An infantile need to smile and crawl
overtakes, and again. All solidly accomplished with a terrific rush
and rhythm of movement, especially legs and feet, and a consistently
unrelenting, unrelentingly consistent (sic) slippery slope of falling
into insanity, depression and creeping towards wonderment for long
enough to arrive at a spare few flowing pirouettes of peace... Strong,
solid, but not pleasant. And not meant to be. However, I longed
to see the breath in the emotion and thus experience the breadth
of humanity so painfully and carefully portrayed. Even in the depths
of despair, there is breath, there is nuance. Of this I am sure.
"Naughty Bijou," choreographed
by Matjash Mrozewski and performed by Julie Hay, Martine Lamy, and
Patrick Lavoie is nothing less than a dance-enthusiast's gem. Again,
a rather melancholic music -- violins, piano and cello -- accompanies
the lithe Hay and the gentle Lavoie. This is a couple living moments
of intense interaction at their home, in the company of their cat,
Martine Lamy. It's remarkably funny. But before I expound on the
plethora of merit in "Naughty Bijou" Parts I and II, allow me a
quick hiatus to the 'middle piece' by this same choreographer, who
presents four in all.
(As Mr. Kudelka good-humouredly
remarked, there was a lot of rather deep or dark music chosen for
last evening's program. Remarkably, almost the sole exception was
his own piece.)
This brings us to the
deep heavy darkness of Mrozewski's "My Red Toy," the music being
"The Night Chorus" from "The Death of Klinghofer" by John Adams.
Welcome to the dance portrait of a Dali-esque medieval sort of nightmare/purgatory.
We havesix barefoot white-powdered tormented beings, five in white
cotton underclothing and one woman in a conical, "whirling-dervish"
style dress, all completely well dusted in talc. The arms of four
of these six dancers are dipped to above the elbow in blood-red
'paint,' and as they dance the paint smudges and randomly covers
other bodies. A young woman in the center of the couples and the
women in dress remain independent, repeating stationary stretches,
steps and poses while the couples interact until finally they surround
the woman in the middle and to her twisted displeasure smudge her
as well. Simple? Oh no, not quite. Effective and innovative. Yes,
Back to the gem that
is "Naughty Bijou." A couple is living what appears to be serious
discussion, or perhaps a break-up (?). As they 'talk,' their cat
sits, as only cats can do, and watches. The cat waits. It exists
and occasionally it moves slightly to a different place in the room.
In Part II, Hay takes off the flowing empire-waist dress, which
she used so effectively to emphasize the Part I choreography, and
continues in a simple white leotard. She folds the long dress once
and lays it on her partner's outstretched arms. He remains seated,
quite still, head bowed over the dress. The cat is much more animated
now and moves quite freely as the couple continues the slow moving
dance "of their lives." Finally, the trio ends up in one area of
the room, after what may be seen as a cautious reconciliation.
I am giving only the
very barest sketch of the scenes of "Naughty Bijou." There are very
witty parts, crazy cat things: fur plucked off a tail, marching
across the room on pointe, a sudden fluster as a bug is brushed
away, etc. I was so taken with the style and energy of this entire
piece, parts I and II, that after the performance, at the reception,
I asked Martine Lamy about it. How is it that such a piece carried
so much? There was a lot going on "behind the eyes." Indeed, the
answer to my query was: the choreographer composed a four-page dissertation
with detail about the emotion behind each movement. I say Bravo.
This permeated the entire room. The communication of an entirely
clear idea. Yes. This flows beautifully through the dancers, and
to the audience.
"Little Moi" by Matjash
Mrozewski, and performed by the choreographer with Brenda Little
was the least 'emotional' of the entire programme. It was entirely
convincing in its comparative simplicity, but besides the gorgeous
strength of the dancers, and the pleasure it surely was to perform
these movements, I'm not sure what to add. Black bottom, white halters
for the couple who interact only slightly and dance alone. Certainly
very clean and beautiful.
In "Concerto for Seven,
" there are seven beautiful barefoot, bare-torso-Ed men in floor-length
flowing beige skirts. I was: enraptured, enthralled, entertained.
Choreographer -- and notably also the costume designer -- Jean Salas
fully and deliciously employed the Violin Concerto, 2nd movement
by Philip Glass. With 'wings' they soared, like sea anemones they
writhed. A continual flow of limbs, soaring allegro, strength with
lifts, quartet, partnering, septet etc and the best uses of double
tour en l'air with fabric that I can muster in my fondest imagination.
with choreography by James Kudelka, was performed in classical dress:
rose-colored Sylphide-like gown for Xiao Nan Yu and white shirt
with grey capris for Rex Harrington. Contemporary movement, danced
on pointe with much pushing, pulling, rushing. Exploration of technique,
yes well... okay, exploration of anything else? I really don't know.
The thing is, I could not help but be drawn to the continuous forlorn
look, or the anxiety, on Xiao Nan Yu's face. This was certainly
intentional, I suppose, but not appealing. And, even if it was meant
to be thus, for whatever reason, it did not vary one iota throughout.
In this relatively small theatre, the expression on Rex Harrington's
face was also rather eye-catching, although not quite as consistently.
Surely his was not a look of, um, how should I put it? 'Ho hum'...?
But this continued throughout the applause. On artists of such caliber
this was, well, really puzzling. Yes, the cadence was up-tempo,
the technique was 'spot-on,' but... I'm still tilting my head. (I
would like to understand, but something tells me I'm happier in
"These Are my Sisters"
by Lisa Robinson was set various portions of music from "Black Angels"
by George Crumb. Two women. One in a rocking chair, one wrapped
cloak-like in the back of her own skirt. The music, with titles
of 'Sarabanda de la Murata Oscar,' 'Lost Bells,' and 'Absence,'
was interspersed with the voice of a woman crying. Not for the meek.
This is the story of a truly desperate sisterly relationship: arms
grasp, hands brush faces tenderly, but most of all, there is a good
deal of pushing away, crumpling into a ball and hands covering pained
faces. Our glimpse of something not grief-stricken was a brief section
of cute feet poking from a skirt. Stephanie Hutchinson and Stacey
Shiori Minagawa did an admirable job of this extraordinarily heavy
"Freestyle," by Jhe Russell,
involved six dancers, one violinist, and two rappers. In this piece
we note overwhelmingly symmetry. Many, many, many movements echo
each other until it's entirely predictable. (Is that 'freestyle'?)
A few almost delicious parts want to take flight...and... then...
hey. Put all of these ingredients into a much shorter piece, and
I'd say Yo, welcome to a snapshot of Jhe Russell's quite excellent
world of rap, baseball gestures (hey, I saw that!), football patterns,
golf swings, a snake wave, moon walk... Take these elements, added
to fuller movement, distilled and shaken in with the considerable
vigor and charm that Russell puts into the rap section and you've
got a tight gig. Best, and too brief: the rapping done by Jhe and
(in Japanese) by M.C. Yshin; also the fiery groovy violinist with
The "Choreographic Workshop"
was originally done in 1969, and has been revisited several times
since. This edition repeats tonight and Saturday. May it happen
again and as often as possible. It is refreshing and just plain
ole wonderful to see the creative side of the NB dancers. Kudos
to Mr. Kudelka for encouraging and enabling them.
Shena Wilson is a Toronto
writer and translator, with an MA in French Literature from the
University of Toronto. Shena has enjoyed over twenty years of ballet
training in France and Canada, well laced with modern, character,
jazz, ethnic and other dance forms. Dance remains her "main
muse," however she's quite happy to leave the performing to
professionals. Any current backstage involvement is limited to that
of playwright, but for the pure fun of it she still attends dance
class almost daily (one of the healthier known cures for writer's
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