"In Tandem," “Moonlight Sonata,” “Carmina Burana”
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Ted Shawn Theater, Jacob’s Pillow
August 3, 2012
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
The cover poster for Jacob’s Pillow this season was also shorthand for what the Royal Winnipeg Ballet displayed at its best. Lovely Jo-Ann Sundermeier, one of the company’s principals, was pictured in a strong, firmly placed pose en pointe, with wafting fabric floating around her and a light smile on her lips. As the photo hinted, this beautiful company danced contemporary pieces with a romantic streak, and hewed close to its classical roots. And those smiles touched the lips of every dancer. Yet the choreography didn’t allow the troupe to display much depth or drama, even with three varied and powerful scores.
Anchoring the evening was an energetic setting by Argentinean choreographer Mauricio Wainrot, of Carl Orff’s iconic “Carmina Burana.” The dancers, in jewel-colored bell shaped skirts, opened seated geometrically in rows like meditative triangles, then exploded in synchronized upper body movements. The geometry carried into solos and duets, with angled legs and arms, matching shapes in paired bodies, and lifts of women in perfectly horizontal splits or with crisply angled thighs and limbs. The choreography was strongest when it used the full company, as the driving rhythm and layered vocal score were pounded out in combinations of turns, lunges, and deep squats.
Although energy was high, there was little heft to Wainrot’s movement. Despite the rumbling, powerful choruses, there were only a few combinations that matched the strength of the score. The “In Taberna” episode, where Amanda Green and Dmitri Dovgoselets were jealous and teasing lovers, offered drama in surging moves from the floor to high, still lifts. At its peak, Dovgoselets lifted Green, and the pair was, in turn, held aloft by several other dancers, the layering of the lifts matching the tight layering of the choral voices and instruments.
In the “Cour d’Amours ” duet, danced by Sundermeier and Alexander Gamayunov. Gamayunov’s large muscled body served as a pedestal to Sundermeier’s delicacy. She perched on one of his thighs as he raised himself from the floor with two arms behind, and then stretched out an arm to hold her while both of them balanced on his single wrist and back-bent shoulder.
The duets, and even the later group scenes, leaned toward a romantic interpretation of the rumbling, massive score. Later in Cour d’Amour, five men wheeled out angled platforms. Five women balanced and posed on them, and were later joined by their partners. Each couple, leaning on a platform, curled in a different tender pose. It looked good, but wasn’t well suited to the music.
Also on the sweet edge of romantic, “Moonlight Sonata,” choreographed by Mark Godden, a former resident choreographer of the company, was – surprise! – a tender duet. Sundermeier and Harrison James moved across the stage and back in long diagonals, like tides drawn by the swelling music. They leaned into each other, part lift, more support. In the familiar slow two chords of the finale, Godden could almost be forgiven the cliché of a final upstage spotlight, and a quiet embrace.
Less focused on sentiment, “In Tandem,” by Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz, used the rhythms and textures in Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet” literally. To the shivering keyboard of Reich’s score, the dancers’ legs shivered; sounds that seemed to peek out of the score accompanied a funny visual of women’s legs peeking horizontally from the wings, as if briefly disembodied from the women who soon emerged. Those legs also echoed one of the organizing visual principles of the work – stripes. The three leg stripes joined earlier pairs of lateral light cutting through the black background and long tape stripes splitting the stage into several vertical segments. Another consistent visual was the dancers’ pleased smiles, everywhere part of the scene.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet was beautiful, crowd-pleasing, and technically accomplished. But it seemed to have more to offer than met our eyes. Hopefully, it won’t take sixty more years to return, but perhaps it will dance works of more heft and risk, allowing them to give us a satisfying dramatic experience as well as a visually appealing one.
copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Photos by Liza Voll
Top: Jo-Ann Sundermeier and Harrison James in “Carmina Burana”
Middle: Royal Winnipeg Ballet in “Carmina Burana”
Bottom: Yosuke Mino and Royal Winnipeg Ballet in “Carmina Burana”