“Apollo”, “Russian Seasons”, and “Theme and Variations”
The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
March 23, 2011
by Denise Sum
copyright 2011 by Denise Sum
The National Ballet of Canada’s busy winter season closed with a varied and interesting Russian-themed triple bill, featuring the choreographic talents of George Balanchine and Alexei Ratmansky and music from Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Leonid Desyatnikov. Ratmansky’s “Russian Seasons” was enthusiastically anticipated, not only as Toronto’s first exposure to the prominent choreographer’s work, but as a chance for Ratmansky to work with the NBoC dancers before he creates his new “Romeo and Juliet” for the company next season. The company premiere of “Russian Seasons” was presented alongside Balanchine’s iconic “Apollo” and opulent “Theme and Variations”.
The choreography maintains a classical backbone. Ratmansky has a way of showing familiar steps in new ways. For instance, the woman in orange sits on the ground and folds over an outstretched leg, like Odette at the beginning of the white swan pas de deux. It is simple, yet totally unexpected. Then there are moments of athletic feats, men balancing on their shoulders or falling prone from a standing position. Elements of folk and social dancing can be seen throughout in the port de bras and épaulment, but there are also a lot of colloquial movements and gestures. It is like watching people’s natural response to the momentum of compelling music. The dancers clap, hop, run on the spot, and embrace one another.
Heather Ogden and Aleksandar Antonijevic were impressive as the joyous green couple. Guillaume Côté and Greta Hodgkinson were the couple in orange. They dance apart as much as together. Cote has a brilliant virtuoso solo full of character flavour, which he tossed off with élan. At one point, Hodgkinson falls to the floor while others quickly gather around. What loss she has suffered is unclear. The pair returns in the last segment, this time dressed in white. It is a wedding scene, possibly signifying spring, rebirth, healing or redemption, bringing “Russian Seasons” to a fitting close.
“Apollo” opened the program. Antonijevic danced the role flawlessly from start to finish. In the prologue depicting Apollo’s birth, he was awkward and helplessly off-balance. When he appears again, visited by the muses, he is the epitome of power and control. Every step was cleanly articulated and his demeanor was dignified and noble. The three muses were all very strong. Jillian Vanstone was a dramatic Calliope and Elena Lobsanova’s Polyhymnia was playful and confident. Sonia Rodriguez was a delight as Terpsichore. She is an extremely musical dancer and navigated Stravinsky’s complex rhythms with ease. Few ballets have more iconic poses or images than “Apollo”; it was a shame that the famous starburst image was askew. But otherwise, the dancers tackled the choreography’s geometric lines and unadorned movement with aplomb.
The final ballet in the mixed program was “Theme and Variations”, an hommage to the imperial Russian tradition to end the evening. Heather Ogden was sublime in the leading role. She has the technical security that allows her to relax and enjoy herself on stage. She was smiling the whole time, but not in a phony way. She soared through the grand pas de chats and did not wobble once in the supported adage with the female corps. Her partner was Piotr Stanczyk, who unfortunately seemed to be having an off-day. He survived the challenging choreography, but was gritting his teeth throughout and had zero connection with Ogden. He was however, a last-minute substitute for Côté. The corps were in fine shape, looking beautiful in all the intricate formations and demonstrating admirable speed and lightness in the finale.