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Flash Review 3, 9-22: Dancers Making Dances
Canadians Create

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.)

Stephanie Hutchinson, 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.

"Metamorphosis," choreographed 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, very.

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.

"Thrust (Scarlattiana)," 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 my ignorance.)

"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 piece.

"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 enormous personality.

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 block).

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