In the Mix
Dance has been a part of my life for a long time, from the age of 4 until the end of high school I studied ballet, jazz and modern and although I haven’t put on a pair of tights and a leotard in a few years my love and appreciation for the art form hasn’t wavered. As often as I can, I make my way to the ballet. (Thank goodness for rush tickets and under 30 deals!)
My latest visit was for the National Ballet of Canada’s Winter mixed program. Though full-length ballets no doubt have their place, personally I find that shorter more contemporary pieces are more exciting and interesting to watch. This selection offered an interesting mix of work from Paquita, first performed in 1881 to The Sea Above, The Sky Below, which premiered just 2 years ago.
The headliner for this program was Apollo choreographed by the legendary George Balanchine. Set to music by Igor Stravinsky the ballet follows a young Apollo, the god of music, as three Muses visit him: Calliope, the Muse of poetry, Polyhymnia the Muses of mime and Terpsichore the muse of dance and song. The movement echoes the classical roots of the story. It was undeniably beautiful, building to a powerful climax. The dancers, clad in understated white costumes, portrayed their characters with grace and elegance.
The second piece was my personal favorite. Night, choreographed by Canadian choreographer and former San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer Julia Adams, was inspired by the work of painter Marc Chagall. Dancers wearing voluminous pants with exaggerated ruffles, an intriguing use of light and an original score by Matthew Pierce, which was commissioned for this work, make this exploration of dreams especially thrilling to watch. With her choreography Adams has captured the exuberant playful world of dreaming while also exploring the more sinister possibilities inherent in the mystery of the unknown. As a female choreographer, she is keenly aware of the gender inequality in our world and has taken this restaging as an opportunity to explore gender identities in her own work. Though originally choreographed with a female lead, Adams has cast a male lead for the National Ballet’s premiere of Night. In addition to being the lone piece in this program choreographed by a woman, Night was also danced by one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen on the National Ballet stage. This was honestly so wonderful to see and imbued the piece with a powerful sense of relevance and undeniable excitement.
The Sea Above, The Sky Below choreographed by Robert Binet was a reverent tribute to National Ballet of Canada Principal Dance Xiao Nan Yu. This is Yu’s farewell season and this piece danced by just 3 dancers exudes an intensity and warmth that can likely be attributed to a profound respect for its inspiration. Wearing costumes designed by Erdem Moralioglu (yes, that Erdem), the dancers move softly and purposefully across the stage making each movement meaningful. Music by Gustav Mahler adds another layer of lushness to this understated piece.
Paquita rounds out the full program. This piece is classical in every sense of the word. Paquita had its world premiere in 1881 and proves to be an excellent opportunity for the dancers to show off their skills. Voluminous tutus and structured jackets amidst traditionally beautiful movements are thrilling to watch but ultimately lack depth. Although the dancers execute their parts with precision and excellent technique the piece, though entertaining enough, never really pushes beyond what meets the eye.
Overall, I enjoyed this program. The dancing was excellent and it was exciting to see how ballet is evolving as new choreographers push the medium, not only artistically but also socially. Classical art forms, like ballet, rely heavily on the past, with many companies still performing pieces that were created hundreds of years ago. Although it is important to honor the history of the art, it is also important to allow for growth. The ballet world appears to be beginning to explore a more complex and nuanced perspective, including more new works in repertoires and striving for more diversity. I look forward to seeing how ballet continues to grow and develop as an art form in our ever-changing world.
The National Ballet of Canada’s Winter 2018/2019 Mixed Program will be on stage March 20 and 21, 2019. Find tickets here.