Ballet needs to find the key to Cohen
Globe and Mail Update
Published Thursday, May. 10, 2012 3:31PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, May. 10, 2012 4:26PM EDT
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet
At Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg on Wednesday
A ballet company is only as strong as its choreography. Granted, talented dancers can transcend a choreographic dud, but poor quality pulls a company down.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet has lately been floundering in inferior full-length ballets. But the mixed program called Pure Ballet is a badly needed tonic.
A mixed program, showcasing the work of different choreographers, tests the mettle of a company. The good news is that the five works in Pure Ballet show off a company of strong dancers. The bad news is that mixed programs can include less-than-stellar offerings.
Jorden Morris, who was responsible for the less-than-stellar Moulin Rouge – The Ballet in 2009 had a chance to redeem himself here but comes up short. His new work The Doorway is set to the iconic songs of Leonard Cohen. Before each song, we hear a voiceover of Cohen talking about his music. One would expect Morris to address either the content of the song or Cohen’s thoughts about it. Instead we get choreography that is all over the map.
Take Bird on the Wire, a duet performed by Harrison James and Sarah Davey. The song is about freedom, but Morris’s duet could be any generic romantic coupling. Morris does better with Cohen’s recitation of Since You’ve Asked, danced by Yosuke Mino and James. The two men execute tightly controlled movements in a confined space, ending up in a close embrace. It works because it captures the thought of giving oneself completely to another.
With plans to expand the piece to 50 minutes, Morris needs to find the key to Cohen and go beyond generic choreography. He also needs to reconsider the soundtrack. The folk/rock duo Keith and Renée and chanteuse Allison Crowe are very talented, but it makes for a messy presentation – some live music and some recorded music. There is just one song with Cohen singing in a duet. In other words, the focus of the piece is scattered.
The rest of Pure Ballet, happily, is pure gold.
Peter Quanz set Luminous on the Hong Kong Ballet in 2010. For the RWB premiere of the work, Anne Armit has costumed the eight dancers in form-fitting, iridescent body suits that reflect the light in wondrous ways. The choreography is full of surprises. At first it seems the piece is pure ballet, swept up in Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich’s neo-romantic Affairs of the Heart.
Ostensibly, the dancers are interpreting the music in abstract terms with big, bold movement that covers the stage. And then one begins to see that relationships are forming and coming apart. Some are loved and some are rejected, all within the bigger picture of the group dynamic. It is a cleverly layered work.
The big piece on the program is Argentine choreographer Mauricio Wainrot’s Carmina Burana (1998) which has been in the RWB repertoire since 2002. The full company nails Wainrot’s challenging and complex riffs on village dances.
Finally, there are two short duets that are farewell gifts to ballerinas Carrie Broda and Emily Grizzell. Broda performs Oscar Araiz’s beautiful and tender Adagietto (1971) with Alexander Gamayunov, while Grizzell is partnered by Yosuke Mino in Mino’s own world premiere of the quirky and fun-filled Rivalry/Revelry.
The ballerinas will be missed, but they’ve been given a grand sendoff.
Pure Ballet continues in Winnipeg until May 13.
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