Category Archives: Dance

National Ballet of Canada Review: The Winter’s Tale

How does someone get into a state of mind where the seed of jealousy can take root even if it is completely unwarranted? Once the seed is planted, is there anyway to stop it growing, or will it inevitably destroy the very thing you love? Then if you are the wronged one and had your love destroyed by the one you loved, would you forgive him/her if (s)he repented painfully over the years? And would you so easily accept strangers into your heart as family if all you knew was a family of a different home? These were some of the questions I’m still pondering after watching this terrific ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. (Here is the synopsis of the story, as structured for this ballet. )

If you like theatre and dance, even if you’re not particularly fond of ballet, you really must to go see the National Ballet of Canada’s co-production with The Royal Ballet of The Winter’s Tale as choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The current run by the National Ballet of Canada is over today, but it surely will make a comeback in the seasons to come. It would be crazy for NBOC to not immediately remount a production as successful as this one, after such a short one-week run. There are many things to commend about this production, but the one thing that is apparent is how conscious Wheeldon is to what would attract new audiences to story ballets. Just as in Alice in Wonderland, the theatricality, production design, and music are really designed to entice the audience to pay attention to the truly wonderful dancing on stage.


There are many outstanding choreographic moments in this show that I’ll remember. A few off the top of my head:

  • The Act 1 duets between Leontes and Hermione, where the same motif is repeated, but getting progressively more sinister and violent from his part as the act progresses.
  • The solo of Leontes as the jealousy takes hold. The movement is twisted, tortured
  • Hermione’s solo during her trial is beautiful, lyrical, and so lonely as she pleads her innocence.
  • The amazing group peasant dances in Act 2.  There is so much joy and exuberance in these sequences that it made me smile the whole while through it. There are so many different shapes and lines made, with very interesting body shapes and movements, that it’s just visually stunning. It’s really a shame that music continues moving so much that there isn’t any slight pauses in the music or the dancing to allow invite the audience to applaud. (I know, we can applaud at any time, but our Toronto matinee audience is generally shy and overly polite…and I don’t feel brave enough to start the applause myself)
  • The really unique positioning in the pas de deux with Perdita and Florizel. In a weird way, I would make the analogy that her body was positioned as if he was holding her like a french horn, with her torso curled up, her head being mouthpiece, and her semi-split legs being the bell of the horn, if the bell was longer and reached up to go across his shoulders. It’s a visual I’ll not forget.

Dance Performances

November 21, 2pm cast:

  • Leontes – Evan McKie
  • Hermione – Jurgita Dronina
  • Perdita – Rui Huang
  • Paulina – Svetlana Lunkina
  • Polixenes – Brendan Saye
  • Florizel – Skylar Campbell

I believe this was my first real chance to see Evan McKie dancing in a lead role since he joined NBOC. Each production typically has multiple casts, so the luck of which cast performed on Saturday afternoons (our season tickets), combined with his injuries in the last couple of years, made this an exciting performance for me. He definitely did not disappoint. Leontes is not a showy technical role, but it’s a showy dramatic acting role. Physically embodying the jealousy eating at him bit by bit until his outlook and his physical bearing is twisted. In his performance there was palatable tension and emotion on stage, especially in the separate duets he has with Hermione and Paulina.

I was also really curious and excited to see newly joined principle dancer Jurgita Dronina as Hermione. She played Hermione with assurance and yet lightness. Her solo at her trial was one obvious highlight; she executed that difficult choreography flawlessly so you didn’t even realize how difficult it was. The other big highlight for me was her duets with McKie as her desperation of the situation grows. The emotion and drama between them were very realistic.

Svetlana Lunkina as Paulina just made me even more of a fan of hers. There’s something about her arms that’s just mesmerizing. And she then has the serious acting chops to portray a woman with all these conflicting feelings: anger and despair toward the man who caused the death of beloved Hermione and her children, and indirectly her husband, but also the sense of duty to continue to serve her master of the kingdom she belongs to.

I only wished the same assuredness of these principle dancers would have rubbed off more on the dancers playing Perdita (the lost princess 16 years later) and Florizel (the prince she falls in love with). The choreography for them in the second act is tremendously difficult, that is for sure, and the audience could tell of the effort involved. You could see that Rui Huang was absolutely concentrating on the steps, but that meant the acting of the part of the young lover was sacrificed. There wasn’t any chemistry between her and Skylar Campbell as Prince Florizel. Things like reacting to each other’s touch, or small body language nuances that demonstrated that she was aware of where he was on stage regardless of whether she was looking at him or not…those were missing. The kisses felt choreographed, instead of a natural thing for these two characters to do. Because I couldn’t believe in the two of them as lovers, it really eroded the magic from the first act.

Production notes

  • The original music by Joby Talbot really helped tell the story, in particular where bits of discordant tones creep into the main melody to signal the change in Leontes’ inner mind. It was definitely clear that this is the same composer as Alice in Wonderland though. There were hints of that score throughout this production—the use of mallet instruments, the kind of wormy sound of the oboe or clarinet paired with the violins. I thought the violin solo in Act 3 as Leontes mourns at Hermione’s grave was absolutely beautiful and I was disappointed that it was so short. I would have loved to have that bit extended. The Act 2 peasant dances were also able to be so joyous because of the great music.
  • The sets and props really helped set the tone between the stark and austere realms of Sicilia, and the warm brightness of Bohemia. The silk effects to convey the rough seas, the sail of the boat, and the bear that attacks Antigonus (as per the famous stage direction of Shakespeare) were brilliant. And the grand tree that is the centerpiece of the second act really is impressive as it spans the entire width of the stage, adorned with hanging jewels and doodads.
  • There were parts of the third act that seemed truncated. For example, when Perdita is revealed to be the lost daughter, how her adoptive father and brother react was kind of skipped over. If there was a reconciliation or apology sought from Polixenes to his son Florizel, then I missed it. And after the wedding scene, it cut really abruptly to the statue gallery. I would have liked another few bars of music for the action on the stage to better transition to that location.
  • The costuming was gorgeous throughout. The detail and the flow of the fabric particularly for the ladies dresses were just outstanding. The only slight distraction was how the purple silk dress worn by Perdita really shows all the sweat. You’d think they would have remembered that from the Alice in Wonderland.

Overall, the story has really been translated amazingly well for the dance stage. The plot line is quite clear, there is lots of drama and action, and really great solo roles for the company dancers. I’m really looking forward to seeing it again the next time they put it on, and keen to see other casts perform the same roles.

What an amazing start to the 2015-16 season!


Attending Fall For Dance North 2015 – Program 2

I was thrilled to attend the second program of the inaugural Fall For Dance North dance festival on the evening of Oct 1, 2015. (Thanks to my friends K&D for getting tickets, and my dear hubby T for taking care of the kids on a Thursday night.) A whole evening of 6 dance companies for $10! How amazing is that? Considering that Oct 1 was also World Ballet Day, it was all together a great day of dance.

On a little more pessimistic side, I do wonder about the sustainability of the festival. The intention of it is to draw new audiences to attend dance performances by making both the price ($10) and the durations of each piece (20 min or less) more accessible. Will it be successful, in the way So You Think You Can Dance has broadened the audience for dance? I sure hope so.

For our evening of dance we had the Program 2 selection of performances. Here are my rough review notes:

Ballet BC – Twenty Eight Thousand Waves

  • This company has come back from bankruptcy in 2009, and according to one of my companions for the evening, have revamped their quality of dance as well. (she used to be a season ticket holder of Ballet BC before 2009) If there was a decline in dance quality back then, it surely isn’t evident now. The performance given this night was terrific.
  • The piece is physical, with intricate partnering sections, but also many moments of solitude.
  • The lighting, set design and costuming were murky, dark…not unlike the waves at sea that pound an oil rig (the title of the piece apparently alludes to the number of times per day an oil rig is battered by waves)
  • The first pas de deux was a stand-out moment for me, the two dancers handled the truly difficult partner work almost effortlessly, but were also able to convey a sense of angst or grief.
  • Did there really have to be that bright string of lights across the top of the stage to shine in our eyes for half the performance though?

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – After the Rain Pas de Deux

  • After the cold and dark look of Ballet BC, the brighter and warm colours of the set, lighting and costuming were welcomed by my eyes.
  • A beautiful pas de deux piece, slow and not showy, but all the more difficult for the absolute control it takes at all times.
  • While Christopher Wheeldon choreographed it as an abstract piece, I am left with a feeling of touching on the tender moments of a deep love, ended by a mourning of that love lost.

DanceBrazil – Malungos

  • A hybrid of Afro-Brazilian folk dance, capoeira, and contemporary, the pulsing music provided by the musicians on stage was infectious. The rhythm section gave different tempos and rhythms (I think i heard some samba in there?) that just instinctively makes you want to move your body.
  • While the dance quality can’t measure up against those that came before it, it was an enjoyable group performance.

Peggy Baker Dance Projects – fractured black

  • I was most excited for the prospect of this one, because Peggy Baker is such a legend/institution in the Toronto contemporary dance world. I’d seen a performance of her company several years before and enjoyed it immensely. For this piece to be created in collaboration with musician Sarah Neufeld, it just seemed like it’d be something special to see.
  • I was let down. The dance was oddly very static, with the movement really only coming from her arms and upper body, with only a few high kicks from the legs. Otherwise her feet were stuck in place. I kept thinking that at some point soon, she was going to rip off the corset and clunky heels she was wearing as a symbol of throwing off the shackles against women and finally MOVE! But no, the piece just ended, expectation unfulfilled.
  • The music was haunting and beautiful though. Neufeld both played the violin *and* sang, which seems terribly difficult to me.
  • I just had a thought – maybe Peggy Baker wanted us to feel frustrated, as a metaphor for how women are still constrained?  Well, if frustration was the desired result, she sure got it from me, and I was not entertained by it. I don’t think it would win over any new audiences either.

Dorrance Dance – SOUNDspace

  • This was my favourite piece of the night, hands down. Dorrance Dance is a tap dance company, one that aims to push the form. This particular piece has no music save the rhythms created from the dancers’ themselves. I was amazed by the varying audio textures, differences in volume and intensity, and playful rhythms throughout. The artistic director and choreographer Michelle Dorrance typically choreographs the rhythms and sounds first, then the steps to create the sounds, and then the body movements to make it an entertaining and surprising experience to watch.
  • Thoroughly enjoyable and joyful from start to end. I’m sure I was smiling the whole way through. Great lighting design too, and now I’ve experienced what a properly miked tap routine is like. Personally I wished this was the closing routine of the evening.

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company – Desencuetros and Rio del Tiempo

  • Esmeralda Enrique was definitely the star here in this flamenco performance. She was just oozing intensity and passion – her performance transcended the mere steps and she was radiating out to the back of the hall. It wasn’t that the other members of her company were poor performers at all—if you were to watch them individually, they were all lovely dancers. But the way she moved her arms and held the angles of her head, the snap back from flow to position…she was the star.
  • The live musicians and singers were very cool too. Similar to the tap routine, the rhythms created in flamenco are very stirring.

Crossing my fingers that this really was the inaugural event, and not just a one-shot deal.


National Ballet of Canada Review: Ratmansky and Côté

Performance: May 30 matinee

Being & Nothingness world premiere

Choreographed by Guillaume Côté, started off as a solo commissioned by Greta Hodgkinson a couple of years ago, before being expanded for this season into a larger work. The piano music by Phillip Glass was quite a perfect fit for the piece.

Greta was as incredible as she was in the first time I saw this. Grappling with loneliness, questioning meaning, and the anxiety of confronting your being – it was all demonstrated here, in here “duet” with the light bulb.

The set was stark, pulled back and up without any backdrops or curtains. The main curtain pulled up several minutes before the start of the show, and showed Greta sitting at the edge of a bed staring out into the house even with the house lights up. Lying on the bed was Felix Paquet, and you wondered whether he was her lover in the piece, but it turns out he was just sharing the space until his vignette. Other set elements included a door, a sink, a window, a chair and a rug, a phone – all would have a dance vignette interacting with these props. Continue reading National Ballet of Canada Review: Ratmansky and Côté

National Ballet of Canada Review: Nijinsky

I’m continuing on with my reviews of the 2014-2015 season of the National Ballet of Canada with the performance of Nijinsky. I must admit, the first time I saw this ballet in 2013, my gut reaction was, “Meh.” Sure, the physicality of the dancing was impressive, but the performances by the NBOC are so often impressive. It just didn’t wow me, or move me. When I saw that they were mounting it again this 2014-2015 season, I was actually tempted to switch out the tickets to a different show. Now I’m satisfied I didn’t.

Continue reading National Ballet of Canada Review: Nijinsky

National Ballet of Canada review: Manon

I have a terrible memory, especially when it comes to recalling details and opinions about shows, concerts, ballets, books, movies, etc that I’ve seen. So to start doing something about it, here goes my inaugural ballet review post so I’ll have it for posterity, and for notes to compare future productions against.

Manon is the first show of the 2014-2015 season. This production has now earned it’s place as one of my favourites of the National Ballet of Canada (NBOC). It’s funny to think that this did not have a successful run the previous time that the National Ballet mounted this ballet in 1999. And to be honest I didn’t know about this ballet either when it was announced, but then when NBOC featured the rehearsal of the pas de deux on World Ballet Day, I got excited. After seeing the show last week, it was for good reason. Continue reading National Ballet of Canada review: Manon