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National Ballet of Canada
Chacony; The Four Seasons; Apollo; there,below
really can get too much of a good thing. When the National Ballet of Canada scheduled
three works by artistic director James Kudelka to be performed on its current tour, it
probably was seen as an homage to the respected choreographer who has headed the troupe
since 1996. The program included the world premiere of Chacony, a solo to the
music of Henry Purcell, and The Four Seasons, Kudelkas 1997 blockbuster.
Who knew the hit of the night would be a ballet by Balanchine?
Apollo, set to Stravinsky, is Balanchines quirky take on Greek mythology. The young sun god who also is in charge of the arts is shown in his infancy, awkward and coltish in his movements. He cant decide if his lyre is a lover, adversary or simply an object of curiosity. After some instruction by his half-sisters, the three Muses, he gets his sea legs and turns a tad imperious. Each of the Muses gets her implement the poetic Calliope, a tablet; dramatic Polyhymnia a mask; and Terpsichore, she of the dance and music, a lyre. And each gets a chance to perform for the boss.
After a powerful solo for Apollo, who seems finally to be claiming his powers, there is a lovely pas de deux with Terpsichore (Jennifer Fournier) and then, as the sun sets, the god sleeps. In the end, the four climb a staircase at the back of the stage and await the dawn of another day. Its simple and the mood is serene, even in the sprightly sections. Guillaume Cote was a fine Apollo and Fournier, Rebekah Rimsay and Heather Ogden made graceful Muses.
Contrast that with Chacony, a brief solo danced by Cote, who really should put in for overtime. Stretched ropes across the back of the stage give a nice suggestion of a spider web as the solo dancer, wearing a fringed garment, strikes a number of tortured, athletic poses. He runs in circles, falls flat on the ground (a favored Kudelka device, seen frequently throughout the evening), beats himself up (eliciting a few unintended giggles from the audience) and folds in on himself, the picture of abject fear and despair. Perhaps he is supposed to be a bug caught in the spider web? Maybe not. The whole thing was decidedly odd, albeit superbly performed.
Theres good Kudelka and not-so-good Kudelka and, if Chacony falls into the latter category, there, below, should be filed under very good. Set to Vaughn Williams lush Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, it is a series of pas de deux and interactions for five couples. Streaming light and smoke, designed by Howell Binkley, create a stunning backdrop where none actually exists. The dancing is marked by exquisite fluidity and Claudia Lynchs costumes flesh-colored leotards touched with gold in the crucial places are perfect. This is a gorgeous abstract ballet.
Not so The Four Seasons, the longest and centerpiece work on the program. With costumes that range all over the map, from Edwardian suits for some of the men to modern dress and some very odd creations (one woman seemed to be wearing a shower cap), it is saved by the popular Vivaldi score, well played by members of the Berkeley Symphony with violin soloist Fujiko Imajishi.
A sort of plot takes a man (Aleksandar Antonijevic) through the various seasons and equally various women of his life. The finest segment is Autumn, sparked by the amazing technique of Martine Lamy who seems to have gotten the best of the choreography. Elsewhere there is a great deal of odd foot stomping from the ensemble, four guys in the background striking distracting poses during a rather decent pas de deux, lots of leaping from the corps and a strange rear projection that looks like a shot of somebodys enlarged pores. At the end, when the man dies, all his women return, wearing Renaissance gowns and bridal veils. Shakespeare said it first: much ado about nothing.
October 1, 2004 Suzanne Weiss