The National Ballet of Canada kicked off its summer season last week with an impressive triple-bill performance at the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
First came James Kudelka’s acclaimed The Four Seasons, set to Antonio Vivaldi’s set of four violin concertos. Kudelka is notorious for his very animated choreography, and he certainly did not disappoint. The Four Seasons follows the character known only as “everyman” through the cycles of life, as represented by the different seasons. First comes spring, representing youth, followed by passionate summer, the calmness of autumn, and then the chilling grip of winter as death. The dancers build the narrative with Kudelka’s intricate choreography using both classic and modern form. He uses mime, tableaus, and even spontaneously breaks into an en-pointe version of the twist. Combined with the intricate costumes and the breath-taking projections, the dancers themselves seemed like physical embodiments of Fujiko Imajishi’s lightning-fast violin music.
Next up was Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, a narrative-free performance featuring ten short dances. The word “polyphonia” means many sounds, and refers to the multi-layered, almost chaotic nature of the music and choreography of this ballet. The performance is set to ten very stylistically different piano pieces by composer Gyorgy Ligeti, involving both slow and fast paced songs to evoke a range of emotions. Wheeldon brings together different visual styles involving the dancers to almost contort their bodies into fantastic shapes, leaving the audience stunned and mesmerized. Wheeldon does not use background projections, instead using lights at key points to project the dancers’ shadows onto the wall behind them. His work is a visual masterpiece that overwhelms the senses.
Finally came Canadian Matjash Mrozewski’s Wolf’s Court, which saw its world premiere on June 2. This piece is described as being narrative-free, but it still tells a story of the impact of imperialism. Alexina Louie’s music is very ominous, featuring a very prominent tuba and piano sound. A mirror dangling from above shows the dancers are now performing on a floor map. As the two principal dancers dominate the stage with traditional ballet steps, they take turns with a cane pointing at specific parts of the map. Other dancers then march over and mark these conquests, until the stage is crowded. Then out comes a blindfolded girl, representing a nameless empire in danger of conquest, who is swept up by a disillusioned imperialist and they perform a triumphant, powerful piece that had the audience in tears. Mrozewski’s story-telling abilities are phenomenal, and combined with the elaborate set and detailed costumes, Mrozewski proved that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Starting next week the National Ballet Of Canada brings you Balanchine’s Don Quixote, the legendary work by George Balanchine. When it premiered in 1965 it starred Balanchine himself as the Don, and Suzanne Farrell as his love Dulcinea. It tells the story of Alonso Quixano, who, with the powers of his imagination, transforms his servant girl into the ultimate love of his life. He then sets out to defend his imaginary love, and refuses to relinquish his fantasy despite being riduculed and assaulted.
Balanchine retired the ballet in 1978 and it remained so until Farrell herself restaged it last year. She has now staged the piece to be performed at the Four Seasons Centre starting June 15. Don Quixote is a notoriously unconventional ballet, heralded as a masterpiece, and hauntingly emotional.
The Four Seasons/Polyphonia/Wolf’s Court runs until June 9. Balanchine’s Don Quixote runs from June 15–24. For tickets, check out the National Ballet website.
Photo of The Four Seasons and Balanchine’s Don Quixote courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada.