Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet"

Piotr and Sonia Rodriguez
(from National Ballet of Canada website)
March 9 was the opening of the National Ballet of Canada's newly re-staged version of Don Quixote.  Based on the Cervantes novel (which also inspired The Man of La Mancha) and set to a bubbly, high flying score by Ludwig Minkus it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening!  Having recently watched A Chorus Line, the title of this post is a line that came to mind several times throughout the night.

Prior to all ballets at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is a ballet talk.  The one for this series of performances was hosted by ballet master and Don Quixote re-stager, Lindsay Fischer.  I've attended his talks before, and find them very insightful and preparatory for the following ballet.  This evenings was no exception.  He always has some interesting insight into the human spirit.  He candidly admitted to having started the book prior to a previous production, never finishing it, but forged through when Karen Kain asked him to create some new dances for this version.  Near the end he discussed how ballet is great at demonstrating relationships but not so good at expressing text.  As a result there is a fair amount of mime.  He gave us a quick primer demonstrating "I love you", "married" and one of Don Quixote's lines of "I am a seeker after nobility, and beauty, and piety.  But you don't find those women very often."  Just standing there talking, he could be anyone, but as soon as he moved his arms in demonstration there was no doubt he was a dancer!  Talk about fluidity! Full talk linked here.

I was wondering if I would understand the story, but even without the talk or reading the plot summary in the program, I needn't have worried.  The story line was quite easily followed through the dancing which was amazing.

Piotr and Greta (from Toronto Star)
The principal dancers for the evening were Greta Hodgkinson as Kitri and Piotr Stanczyk as Basilio the barber.  Basilio was scheduled to be performed by Guillaume Cote making his debut in the role.  When the announcement was made about the change prior to the performance there were audible groans and disappointed noises from the audience.  Admittedly I was looking forward to a debut performance, but really enjoyed Piotr's.

I was sitting in Ring 3, in a single chair off to the side which turned out to be an awesome location.  I could see into the orchestra pit, had a great view of David Briskin conducting (who also on occasion uses a sweeping beats 3-4, maybe it's a ballet conductor thing), and the clarinetist Max Christie (who had some lovely solos in Act 2).  Mr. Christie even managed to roll out his wrists while still playing.  I couldn't see who was in the concertmaster seat, but the program has Benjamin Bowman listed as being on leave and Akemi Mercer as the guest concertmaster.  Mr. Bowman was just announced as concert master last season, and suddenly he's on leave?  After being blown away by his performance in the ballet I attended last season (that blog is here), I was hoping to see him again.

Piotr from 2006 production
(from National Ballet of Canada website)
As for the actual dancing, well I'm certainly no expert, but I was impressed with the dancers sense of rhythm which they demonstrated through claps and snaps in addition to dance.  There's a scene were Don Quixote thinks a windmill is a gypsy and attacks it.  The windmill wasn't terribly convincing with big palm branches for blades.  The pyrotechnics after he knocks the blades off with his spear were cool though.  This then leads into Don Quixote's dream sequence where he imagines his love Dulcinea looks like Kitri who dances with wood nymphs (it's ballet, you must suspend belief).  This scene reminded me of the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" from The Nutcracker.  The dancers were all in white stiff tutus and the style seemed similar,  very pretty and dream like so the point was made.

The ballet had all the elements of a good story, acting, music, and energetic dancing by all parties.  I'm looking forward to attending more ballets.

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