Sunday, November 21, 2010

NACO Off to a Dancing Start

Gotta Dance opened the NAC Orchestra Pops season on Nov. 4-6.  I'm sure this program has evolved and variations are done different places but back in 2000 Gotta Dance was also part of the season, in what could have been one of Maestro Everly's first performances with the NAC Orchestra.  Anyway, the orchestra and now Principal Pops conductor Jack Everly got a strong welcome by the audience as they began with what I've come to expect and adore at these events, an original Jack Everly arrangement titled to match the program as the "Gotta Dance Prelude".  I picked out "Shall We Dance" from the King and I, "Hernando's Hideaway" from The Pajama Game, and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady.

Next came the first set of ballet music from two of Tchaikovsky's (lol, just noticed they typo'd his name in the program!) ballets: the very famous "Sleeping Beauty Waltz" (of which a vocal version is in Disney's movie and "A Chorus of Hits"), and the "White Swan" pas de deux from Swan Lake.  This was Tchaikovsky's first ballet and was a failure in it's first staging partially because the score was considered too symphonic!  Making it perfect for a symphony orchestra :)  Jack (side note:  I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for Mr. Everly, but for the sake of brevity and having heard him introduce himself as "Jack" I'm going to start using that for these posts recognizing that we're really not that familiar and no disrespect is intended) did a brief summary of the plot preceding the pas de deux where the Prince ("there's always a Prince") goes hunting at night.  At night...hunting...bows and arrows...good thing no one requires ballets to be plausible.  However, there was a full moon and evidently "set and lighting designers love a full moon" (considering he also studied set design in university, I'd say he has the knowledge to know).  Enter Patrick Lavoie and Jillian Vanstone, artists with the National Ballet of Canada, who performed the pas de deux exquisitely.  My dance friend attended with me, so I take her word on this!  Personally I think they deserved more rousing applause, but people seemed to prefer the still to come Lombard Twins.  The "Berceuse (or Lullaby) and Finale" from Stravinsky's Firebird were part of the second half.  It appeared that Jack didn't look at a score for most of the ballet pieces, which isn't surprising given the 14 years he spent focused on that repertoire.

The stage techies then came out and "rolled up the lake" (the flooring that had been put down for the ballet dancers) getting heckled by Jack that it was taking them so long, as he described the plot of The Band Wagon.   There's so much back story that could be discussed to set up "Dancing in the Dark" though that the stage techies could have taken ages.  The movie version starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, (which is great, I highly recommend it!), while Fred and his sister Adele starred in the original Broadway musical.   Jack mentioned the autobiographical nature of the movie and Astaire's life and the original movie orchestration (which they used!) by the amazing Conrad Salinger at MGM who gave everything he did a distinct sound.   From reading Astaire's autobiography I also remember him being worried that Charisse was too tall for him as a dance partner, although with the park bench and deep knee bends used through the actual dance in the movie, it was rather hard to tell.

Next things switched from the orchestra to the "song and dance man".   Jack mentioned Dick Van Dyke as one of the last in a long line featuring the greats like Donald O'Connor (one of my favourites) and Gene Kelly (who he actually almost forgot to include).  Stephanie Cadman and Mark Cassius took on the rolls of Albert and Rosie (on Broadway played by Van Dyke and Chita Rivera) to perform "Put on a Happy Face" from Bye Bye Birdie.  Quite likely the Broadway original was better than the movie version, although Van Dyke did reprise his role and made the movie watchable.  Mark Cassius was cheery enough and succeeded in drawing his lady and the audience into the song.  He was also very pleasant and considerate when I met him in the lobby after the show (thanks to him and Stephanie for their autographs!).  Stephanie also returned in white tie and tails during the second half for a tap solo to "Shakin' the Blues Away", incorporating such quick turns she shook her hair loose of it's pins.

Dancing continued tango style with ballroom dancers Nikolai Pilipenchuk and Natalia Skorikova (who've been on Dancing with the Stars) performing to Porter's "Begin the Beguine".  Not having looked at the program just before the show and having forgotten this piece was on it, I spent the time marvelling at their dancing while trying to figure out what the song was!  Finally at intermission I was able to stop wracking my brain.  In the second half, they put their acting skills to further use in the more serious "Libertango" by Astor Piazzolla (linked to the YoYo Ma version, did you know he made a whole CD of Piazolla's music?  It's a good listen).

The Lombard Twins combination of what I'd call tap/hip hop/popping seemed to be the top audience pleaser.  They performed to "Escualo" in the first half and "Chant and Fugue" in the second, both by Piazzolla.  Concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki had his work cut out for him with all the violin solos throughout the evening and shed his jacket for what seemed a pretty demanding roll in "Escualo" which I'd say he executed beautifully.

The orchestra took centre stage again with a suite from "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" from Rodgers and Hart's 1930's production On Your Toes.  I'm familiar with this from it being featured in the Rodgers and Hart biopic Words and Music which had Gene Kelly (who also re-choreographed the ballet for the movie and changed the ending to have the dance hall girl and hoofer get shot) and Vera-Ellen dancing the rolls.  Check it out.

Post intermission was another Everly arrangement of "Big Band Dance Hits".  The beginning seemed to quote "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy and the wonderful "In the Mood" also featured prominently.  The orchestra even got to shout something out in the middle, which from my own experience and from having asked the conductor himself, is often a challenge to get them to do.  They seemed to embrace it though, but I couldn't make out what was actually said.

"Jellicle Ball" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's long long running show Cats was included in the program as well.  From Jack's slightly cynical introduction I'd say he isn't a big fan of the musical, referring to how there's "always a touring production of those pussycats somewhere".  However, he conducted the piece with his usual enthusiasm and energy, and while there may be a non-existent plot (honestly I've never seen the show, however I listened to a full cast recording the week following the concert and wasn't that impressed.  Maybe it needs the context of the performance, but I'd tend to agree with reviewer Mark Andrew Lawrence "Happily the finale arrived and we are told (finally) what the point of this show is: "A cat is not a dog." I lost three hours of my life to learn that???" --full review here) the "Jellicle Ball" is a fun piece of music.

The concert concluded with "Lord of the Dance" a fantastic piece with full orchestra!  The O'hare Irish Dancers and students from the Sue Fay Healy School of Irish Dance provided the lively soft and hard shoe step dancing.

Post concert, the conductor and most of the guest dancers were kind enough to chat and sign autographs in the lobby.  Judging by the number of people waiting to share a quick word I'd say Jack is extremely well liked it Ottawa.  It was an honour to speak briefly with him and many thanks for the autograph etc. as well! It made my night :D

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