"Watershed", "Being and Nothingness (Part 1)", "Unearth", "...black night's bright day..."
The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
November 22, 2013
By Denise Sum
Copyright © by Denise Sum 2013
Karen Kain's commitment to promoting and creating opportunities for Canadian choreographers is one of her greatest strengths as an artistic director. She first presented an "Innovation" mixed program featuring works from up and coming Canadian dance makers in 2009. This year, she has done it again with a mixed program featuring 3 world premieres, alongside a new solo piece by Guillaume Côté. As with any new works, the results were variable. However, the important thing is that programs like this give choreographers an invaluable opportunity to experiment and hone their craft, while providing NBoC dancers with the excitement and inspiration that comes from having original works created on them.
The most seasoned choreographer represented was former artistic director, James Kudelka. His ballet, "...black night's bright day..." is the first work he has created for the company since he stepped down from the position in 2005. He chose to set the work to Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater", beautifully sung by Dame Emma Kirby and Daniel Taylor on opening night. The dancers are dressed in flowing blue costumes by Hoax Couture. It is an epic, folk-inflected work that hints at stories but is ultimately timeless and universal in its themes of death, bereavement, and rebirth. It is an ensmeble piece, but there are some moving duets and solos. Heather Ogden plays the central role of a grieving woman, surrounded and lifted by a circle of mourners. McGee Maddox represents the departed, shrouded in a black sheer tunic. He rises from his death bed to dance with Ogden who eventually pushes him back towards his grave. The ballet also marked ex-Bolshoi star Svetlana Lunkina's debut performance as a guest artists with the company. She looked radiant on stage, at ease in Kudelka's lyrical choreography. She danced a haunting pas de deux with Côté.
While Kudelka was the most established choreographer of the program, at the other end of the spectrum was 22 year old NBoC choreographic associate, Robert Binet. Binet is a Torontonian from birth, having completed his training at the National Ballet School before creating a number of works for the NBoC choreographic lab. He has participated in the New York Choreographic Institute and Wayne McGregor's DanceLines initiative. His ballet "Unearth" takes audiences into a science fiction-like futuristic world that is quirky yet slick. "Unearth" explores the tension between stillness and stagnation vs. movement and change in civilization, certainly fitting for the "Innovation" theme. The minimalist set by Hyemi Shin features a huge rock formation that looks almost like an iceberg in certain lighting. It is an interesting metaphor, these natural structures that seem grounded and motionless, yet are constantly shifting ever so slightly. He pairs his choregraphy with an original score by fellow Canadian, Owen Pallett. Pallett is a darling of the indie music scene, best known for his collaborations with Arcade Fire, Beirut, and The National. Pallett's name certainly helped generate buzz around "Unearth", perhaps attracting some new audience members. His score is cinematic with sweeping melodies and quick changes in tempi. The choreography mirrors the theme of inertia, with adage steps breaking into running, quick jumps and unusual spinning lifts. "Unearth" is a promising work, and already Binet has created a ballet that has momentum and direction.
Direction is something that was lacking in "Watershed", choregraphed by José Navas. Navas is originally from Venezuela, but has been working in Canada since 1995 in Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa. His background is in contemporary dance. Watching "Watershed", one had a sense of the novelty that working with a classical company must have held for him. There were a lot of pretty poses and nice, symmetrical formations, but in 20 minutes, the ballet seemed to meander and not go anywhere. He used music from Benjamin Britten's "Peter Gimes" and the movements loosely mimicked the ebb and flow of an ocean tide. It started with some interesting images. The ballet begins in silence, with only the dancers silhouettes visible (like Harald Lander's "Études"). They perform classical steps randomly, yet the chaos gradually coalesces until they are moving in unison. Then there is a play on the traditional ballet gender roles. The men come out in tutus and the women in tights. However, the choreography loses steam and becomes repetitive in the latter part.
The highlight of the evening for me was "Being and Nothingness (Part 1)", a 7 minute solo created by Côté for Greta Hodgkinson. The piece had its premiere earlier this year in Hodgkinson's home town, Providence, Rhode Island. Côté is particularly skilled in choreographing on an intimate scale and this was a perfect example. He uses music from Philip Glass ("Metamorphosis"). The minimalist aesthetic matches the solo, which was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre's writing on existentialism. A single hanging lightbulb illuminates a small area. The rest of the stage is a black void. Hodgkinson dances below the light in bare feet, questioning her very existence. She examines her hands, wringing them repetitively. Her limbs move abruptly, each of them autonomous. Nothing is predictable. From time to time, she pauses to look up at the light. It ends with her blowing out the light and returning to nothingness. Hodgkinson is brilliant in this piece. She is able to push the boundaries of her movements and experiment in the moment, which is only possible because of the level of mastery she has achieved in manipulating her body.
The mixed program showed there is a great deal of Canadian talent, with Côté and Binet showing a lot of potential for the future. Lets hope that Kain continues to nurture their creative development and build an audience in Toronto for more innovative and experimental works.
Guillaume Côté and Svetlana Lunkina in … black night's bright day … by James Kudelka. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Unearth by Robert Binet. Photo by Bruce Zinger.