A child’s paradise regained

“This is a story about childhood. It’s in at least two languages, some spoken, some not . . . We’ll remember . . . falling off your bicycle, stealing money off your mother’s dressing table . . . .”

A man sits with a book on his lap stage left as two dancers enter the space, then put on harlequin costumes and proceed to (artfully) cavort like children at play. Seen on one’s computer screen, this is Les Paradis Perdus / Remix, a delightfully layered online presentation, featuring commentary from the four participants.

Laurence Lemieux created the duet in 2005 for herself and Bill Coleman, commissioning Christopher Butterfield to compose music based on childhood memories Lemieux submitted to him. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not arrived, Jimmy and Juliette Coleman, the couple’s very able dancers, were to perform Les Paradis Perdus at the Citadel on May 14.

Swallowing her disappointment at the theatrical shutdown, Lemieux, artistic director of Citadel + Compagnie, has mounted a 10-week online performance series that began on April 28. Every Tuesday at 2 pm EDT until June 30, a new work is released on www.citadelcie.com. The series so far has included work by Naishi Wang and Sabina Perry.

Les Paradis Perdus / Remix went up May 12, introduced with a cyber conversation among Lemieux, Butterfield and Luke Garwood and Erin Poole, the dancers who performed Les Paradis in 2015.

When what performers need most – bodies in seats watching them – is not available, what can one do to bring an element of spontaneity to a production? What the CetC team wanted most to avoid was presenting a relic of a show; hence the remix, a newly edited version of the recording.

On a shared screen we see Lemieux’s handwritten notes for Butterfield’s score. The composer tells us he removed certain syllables to create his score. In the recording we can see and hear him, intoning lines like a choir singer or standing with a furled roll of paper to speak as if through a megaphone.

Meanwhile, Garwood and Poole, entering in street clothes, appear to regress as they don their joker/harlequin costumes, reproducing the spirit of childhood and adolescence in Lemieux’s inventive choreography.

On the Zoom screen, Poole reflects on how an audience might adapt to the reality of lockdown entertainment. “I wonder if one might watch (at home) from under the covers,” she says, remembering another childhood transgression: reading stories with a flashlight after lights-out.

Next up on the Citadel + Compagnie online series: unmoored by Peggy Baker and Sarah Chase (May 19) and Malcolm by James Kudelka (May 26)

Watch here: https://www.citadelcie.com/les-paradis-perdus-remix-citadel-online/

Photo of Erin Poole and Luke Garwood by Jeremy Mimnagh

 

 

Sheep in step in quarantine

While the COVID-19 lockdown has allowed some of us to discover our inner artist and thus alleviate the suffering from no human contact (within two metres), creators–performers in particular–are sufferers in quarantine because they can’t engage with a live audience. But CORPUS, the company of dancers and actors best known for shows such as A Flock of Flyers and Les Moutons (The Sheep), has found a way to deliver a live performance online: Sheep in Quarantine.

Sunday’s Zoom performance, shot in bedrooms and living-rooms in Vienna, Ottawa, Montreal, London and Toronto and in a French field in Bournazel, went off without a hitch – a real feat, as any non-professional who’s tried to sing or talk along with others on teleconferencing applications will know.

As it turns out, computer technology gives this company scope for even more fun in the production of its precise, surreal theatrical tableaux. Artistic director David Danzon, who co-founded CORPUS in 1997 with Sylvie Bouchard, is the shepherd in surgical mask who dozes off, half-eaten baguette beside him, on the hill overlooking his grazing sheep. Cud-chewing performers Michael Caldwell, Robert Feetham, Anika Johnson, Indrit Kasapi, Jolyane Langlois, Matthew O’Connor, Emily Poirier, Takako Segawa, Carla Soto and Kaitlin Torrance – all of them accomplished dancer/actors with more than a dash of clown technique – are first seen getting into their bulbous sheep costumes and warming up with pliés and stretches in their urban abodes.

To the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers,” the shepherd’s dream proceeds. Fat-thighed, floppy-eared sheep twirl in delicate pirouettes and execute graceful, hoof-handed portes-au-bras in their rooms on two continents. The point where they all approach their webcams for simultaneous face and bum close-ups is hilarious. Then comes the wolf, appearing in what was a Zoom frame of grass and is suddenly a room featuring a grey sofa. Our shepherd awakes, of course, for the sheep count (teeth-clicking their names) and all’s well that ends well. CORPUS isn’t the first or the only group to deliver a synchronized live performance on Zoom, but like everything else this troupe does, Sheep in Quarantine is a stellar, one-of-a-kind event. A recording of the show will be posted on http://www.corpus.ca.

Sheep in Quarantine, A Live Zoom Performance for Strange Times

Directed by David Danzon

Produced by the CORPUS production team of Janin Goldman, Carolin Lindner and Paulina Speltz

Costumes by Joanne Leblanc

Photo of Anika Johnson by Brandon Brackenbury

Romeo and Juliet unbound

It’s hard to think of any 20th-century ballet score more exhilarating than Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, composed in 1935. Ever since the critically acclaimed 1940 Kirov production of the ballet, choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky, any classical company worth mentioning has mounted this achingly romantic ballet based on William Shakespeare’s 1597 tragedy of star-crossed lovers.

Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. They fall in love amid a running feud between their families. Shakespeare set the scene: “Two households, both alike in dignity, / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,”

The Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky created a new production of Romeo and Juliet for the National Ballet of Canada in 2011. Distinctly different from John Cranko’s R&J performed by the National Ballet from 1964, this production comes shorn of naturalistic elements, relying instead on Richard Hudson’s minimalist but emblematic, towering sets.

Given the splendid performance of the Prokofiev score by the National Ballet’s orchestra under the direction of David Briskin, Ratmansky’s decluttering lets the dancers and the music tell the story in vivid ways.

The opening scene featuring Guillaume Côté as a happy-go-lucky teenaged Romeo who is a reader – hence a dreamer – does the important work of establishing character. Compared with previous R&J productions,  much more dancing with more challenging and quicker steps is going on here.

Romeo’s pals Mercutio and Benvolio soon join him and we see the bond among the three young companions. Jack Bertinshaw’s Mercutio is fleet-of-foot, playful and springs into the air like a jack-in-the-box. Skylar Campbell’s Benvolio matches him for agility but presents a more down-to-earth character.

It is up to Piotr Stancyzk as Tybalt to establish the enmity between the two families. He is all fire and fury, bounding into the town square as if his sword was already drawn.

The beauty of Hudson’s costuming in this R&J is that garments give immediate readings of who is a noble, who’s a peasant or servant; who’s allied to Montagues (red) and who’s with the Capulets (blue). The heavy renaissance gowns and robes of the lords and ladies make them move in a stately fashion.

In the square, friendly and not-so-friendly swordplay brings Lord and Lady Montague and their Capulet counterparts into the fray. It takes the commanding figure of the Duke of Verona (Jonathan Renna) to come in and demand peace for the sake of the city-state of Verona. As the square clears, two young corpses lay on the ground, much to the grief of their kinsmen and women.

Meanwhile, Elena Lobsanova as young Juliet attended in her bedroom by her beloved nurse (Lorna Geddes), is playful, barely more than a child. Her mother, a very effective Stephanie Hutchison as Lady Capulet, indicates it is time for Juliet to marry and soon a stiff-looking Paris (Ben Rudisin) will be introduced as her husband-to-be.

The Capulet ball, a crucial scene for Romeo and Juliet, is quite stripped down, favouring the encounter between Romeo and Juliet in a series of pas de deux and solos that emphasize their youth, naivete and, eventually, inner turmoil. Côté’s strength and attack is complemented with a tender side. Lobsanova’s willowy, fluid form gives a strong impression of being swept away on the wings of love.

The drama of the two characters is heightened in the scene after Romeo has killed Tybalt and comes to Juliet’s bedside. Romeo’s heart is heavy, not just because they must part, but with the knowledge he has eliminated Juliet’s cousin.

Similarly, as Friar Laurence, Peter Ottmann makes clear with a minimum of gestures the crisis-of-conscience he’s suffering.

Such dramatic moments throughout this Romeo and Juliet means a moving experience for the audience and what must be a very satisfying performance for the dancers.

Romeo and Juliet

Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky

Music by Sergei Prokofiev

Set and costumes by Richard Hudson; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton

Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, until March 22

Photo of Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova as Romeo and Juliet by Aleksandar Antonijevic

 

Technically proficient, hilariously funny

In its early years – the mid-70s — Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was a troupe of comical drag queens with chest hair dressed in tutus and teetering in point shoes. Leap forward to the Trocks’ 2020 North American tour, which took them to Toronto’s Winter Garden on March 7 and 8, and we see an even funnier, much more skilled company of dancers who can do the classical ballet moves, en pointe or off, to a professional standard.

That may be because nearly all the current performers in the company joined between 2014 and 2019. Only Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova and Yuri Smirnov) has been a Trock since the 90s.

Also seen in Toronto as uninvited guest artist Brooke Lynn Hytes is Brock Hayhoe, a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School. She was a Trock from 2008 to 2012, and this is her first time back on stage with the company since then.

And how funny are these new Trocks? Let us count the ways.

First, they spoof classical story ballet as no other company can. “Dying Swan,” the 1905 solo made for Anna Pavlova, is a Trockadero signature role. In technical terms, Vanya Verikosa, aka Brook Lynn Hytes, performed the feather-spewing role to the usual applause, laughter and endless curtain calls pretty flawlessly. Artistic director Tory Dobrin has tightened up the screws on these dances, adding nuance, subtler gestures and opportunities for split-second timing.

Secondly, the Trocks’ performances make witty satire of the 19th-century story ballet. The opening excerpt from Act II of Swan Lake, another Trock standard, featured a stunning Prince Siegfried performed by Vladimir Legupski (Duane Gosa, a Chicago-born graduate of the Ailey School) clowning with Benno (Mikhail Mypansarov/Yeric Valentino), his hapless but ambitious page, and handling a klutzy Queen of the Swans, performed by Nadia Doumiafeyva (New Yorker Philip Martin-Nielson).

The mimes – pointing at the ring finger, clutching the heart, swooning in fear – are taken to an extreme. To the sound of splashing and quacks, the tutu-ed swans flap their wings desperately trying to get airborne and swim the crawl to escape their predators. Yuri Smirnov (Robert Carter) made an evil but incongruously happy Von Rothbart, prancing around in Tudoresque pantaloons.

A third trope, which gets funnier as the show goes on, is the spectacle of men playing women playing men. Vladimir Legupski (Chicago-born, Ailey-trained Duane Gosa) is a towering Prince Siegfried in false eyelashes and richly rouged lips in Swan Lake. As Helen Hightower, this dancer takes the role of rivalrous prima ballerina Fanny Cerrito, in Le Grand Pas de Quatre.

Fourthly, everyone loves a clown and the Trocks boast some of the best. Guzella Verbitskaya (Bostonian Jack Furlong Jr) appears as a slightly chunky ballerina, always out of step with her ensemble and, a consummate buffoon, doing a sensational pratfall, or waving to someone in the audience when she should be focused on her dance steps.

However you like your laughs, this company, which played to a delighted sold-out Winter Garden Theatre on Saturday, is bound to please.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Presented by Show One Productions at the Winter Garden Theatre,

Toronto, March 7 and 8, 2020

Photo of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s Swan Lake by Sascha Vaughn.

 

Angels, rockers and a dying courtesan

“I felt like I was falling in the vastness of it all.” This is Crystal Pite recalling a childhood fascination with the cosmos. That, and a lighting technique by Pite’s set designer Jay Gower Taylor were all the impetus she needed to create Angels’ Atlas, a piece that premiered on opening night of the National Ballet of Canada’s mixed program.

As the curtain comes up, Gower’s cosmos hangs over the dancers – 37 of them folded over in baby pose – like an all-white shimmering Aurora Borealis.

Pite is a master of the moving tableau and Angels’ Atlas comprises some of her best. The dancers are costumed in loose split pants, some with fabric panels that make them look like sarongs. They move in unison as huge shimmering mass, like an underwater school of fish as the light reflects off their bodies with each turn.

The motif of ascendance and descendance builds a feeling of transformation and the connection between the heavens and Earth.

Siphesihle November, man of the moment throughout this program, was one of the starring solos in Angels’ Atlas. Muscular, quick-footed partnering between Heather Ogden and Harrison James, Jordana Daumec and Spencer Hack, Hack and Donald Thom made this half-hour co-production with Ballett Zürich unforgettable.

Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, last performed here in 2015, opened the mixed program as if to say, this is what contemporary ballet dancers of the highest caliber can do. Set to a score by Joby Talbot and Jack White of the White Stripes, the piece opens on loud dissonance, progresses through lyrical to romantic and back to big brass in an arrangement of songs including “Aluminum” “Blue Orchid” and “Transit of Venus.”

McGregor’s understanding of what a body can do – see his choreography for Thom Yorke in the Radiohead video of “Lotus Flower” – is paramount in witnessing Chroma, which The Royal Balled premiered in 2006.

Set in a white, L-shaped dance space with a wide picture window behind from which dancers entered, Chroma puts dancers Skylar Campbell, Heather Ogden, a very lithe and happy Tanya Howard, Svetlana Lunkina and others to the test. They come off winningly.

At first it is disconcerting to see the men wearing the same flowy teddies as the women. Then as two men partner each other, it all makes sense: dance transcends gender divides and achieves a harmony akin to a perfectly blended colour palette.

The middle work, Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, was first performed in 1963 by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Telling the story of an ill-used courtesan jealously loved by a nobleman named Armand, the ballet hasn’t aged well.

But as a showcase for Greta Hodgkinson in her final performances with the National Ballet, it sets off her acting ability, her beautiful arm movement and her virtuoso dancing. Guillaume Côté plays the lover Armand with ease; Jonathan Renna makes a Duke with attitude, and Piotr Stanczyk, woefully underemployed here, is Armand’s father in this melodramatic, over-orchestrated short piece to a Franz Liszt piano sonata. One might prefer to keep Hodgkinson in mind for her performances in Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, The Four Seasons and ballets by John Cranko, Jiří Kylián and Glen Tetley.

 

Angels’ Atlas, with Chroma and Marguerite and Armand

Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, until March 7

Photo of artists of the National Ballet in Angels’ Atlas by Karolina Kuras

Red Sky on fire

If you want to see some terrific contemporary dancing, set to an amazing score by Eliot Britton and Rick Sacks and performed live on stage, get down to the Berkeley Street Theatre to see the latest Red Sky production, AF.

Billed as “seven movements of contemporary dance and compelling physical storytelling,” AF is a show that grew out of Red Sky’s residency in the Berkeley Street Company. The initials are taken from Animal Farm, George Orwell’s allegorical novella of 1945 that depicted a rebellion among farm animals seeking freedom from their farmer overlord. It does not end well.

According to Red Sky artistic director Sandra Laronde, rather than recapitulating the dark path of Animal Farm, this show, choreographed by Thomas Fonua, took its lead from the more triumphant Anishinaabe mythology, specifically the eight fire prophecies.

The Anishinaabe fires correspond with epochs in the history of Turtle Island (i.e., the world), each fire a prophecy. The fourth fire, for instance, foretold the coming of a light-skinned people. The seventh fire, as explained on the website crystalwind.ca, was delivered by a young, clear-eyed prophet. The seventh fire was to lead to the rebirth of the Anishinaabe nation. The eighth and final fire will be an eternal flame signifying, “peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood.”

None of this information is available to the audience, so the dancers have a daunting task – to explain in mime and movement what’s going on. What’s more, the wonderful voiceover from Anishinaabe speaker Albert Owl, is nowhere translated. It would have been a simple matter, given Chris Malkowski’s clever lighting design, to project surtitles on the brick wall that forms the back of the stage.

Story-wise, AF takes a while to find its feet. In a cone of light, a tall figure of powerful mien, with long hair and a cloth draped over his jeans, opens the show. In front of him in darkness is a long table and all we can make out are four heads. When the lights come on over the table, we see it a supine male, leaned over by two women dressed in flowing blue dresses, their hands clawing at the supine figure’s legs, their heads shaking rapidly back and forth, somehow in synch with the rhythm of the music and drumming to the right of them on stage.

Even those ignorant of the mythology will catch the meaning of the fourth or fifth movement, when a mottled circle of light slowly encloses the dancers in a tight formation. The paleskins take over the land and put the Anishinaabe on reserves.

The tall, warrior-like character might be interpreted as delivering the eighth prophecy, as flames (a trick of lighting) lick around the dancers: Eddie Elliot, Michael Rourke, Miyeko Ferguson, Marrin Jessome and Connor Mitten.

Fonua’s contemporary moves are pretty standard, but as barrel rolls flow into floor crawls or leaps and push-pull partnering, it’s hard to see any aspect of Animal Farm – or any necessity for it.

Yes, the dancers do a lot of sideways, forward and backward moves on all fours and sometimes there are farm animal sounds, but what you notice are the birds’ cries, blending with a soundtrack of recordings from Gabe Gaudet, Marie Gaudet, Nelson Tagoona, Tanya Tagaq and a Tribe Called Red. Jenifer Brousseau’s live singing and keening, invoking the spirits, takes precedence. The problematic dance language is in repeated poses with heads down and faces unseen, always suggesting submission. Problematic, because this is a hopeful, upbeat show and we need to know that before the final upright, towering formation.

AF

Direction and concept by Sandra Laronde

Choreography by Thomas Fonua

Music by Eliot Britton and Rick Sacks

Lighting design by Chris Malkowski

A Red Sky Performance production presented by Canadian Stage at Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, until March 1

Photo from AF by Dahlia Katz

‘Let’s queer up the world together’

“Toxic masculinity” is such an oft-used term, one almost forgets there is any other kind. So Sébastien Provencher’s Children of Chemistry, set on five gay male dancers, comes as a welcome corrective. The show, first worked on in 2015 as a site-specific piece in Montreal, contains in its theatrical version all the drama –and comedy — of a well made one-act play.

Dancers Miguel Anguiano, Jean-Benoît Labrecque, Louis-Elyan Martin, Alexandre Morin and Simon Renaud first appear on the black box stage of the Citadel as a quiet ensemble, dressed variously in white shirts or t-shirts over jeans, a skirt or underwear. Slowly, in precise in unison, they move their arms and hands, raising elbows, pointing, stretching, opening palms like a flower and repeating a hand gesture to the forehead that suggests a rooster’s comb. This first movement is like a work of synchronized sign language, floating over Hani Debbache’s electronic score, a gentle hum that builds to something like techno-funk.

Before you know it, one dancer has broken out – there’s one in every crowd, you think. And soon they’re all going freestyle, colliding with one another. One, Jean-Benoît Labrecque, has a little breakdown on stage.

Either they are highly skilled quick-change artists or there are some very good dressers back stage, because in the blink of an eye, the five have returned in colourful blazers, mincingly doing a fashion runway walk sporting camouflage army dress, swimwear (featuring a one-piece with a thong back to reveal rounded cheeks) and sports gear, culminating with a guy in a colourful windjacket doing a wobbly turn on roller-blades. Soon they are down to skin, a rubbery horse’s head and white socks being the only attire of one model.

Vamping becomes voguing in the hilarious football sequence that has them all in red leotards with matching red helmets. Soon they are in full-blown North American red-blooded form, a coach shouting orders, all marching, military style – sometimes on tiptoe.

Before you know it, one dancer has broken out – there’s one in every crowd, you think. And soon they’re all going freestyle, colliding with one another. One, Jean-Benoît Labrecque, has a little breakdown on stage.

Either they are highly skilled quick-change artists or there are some very good dressers back stage, because in the blink of an eye, the five have returned in colourful blazers, mincingly doing a fashion runway walk sporting camouflage army dress, swimwear (featuring a one-piece with a thong back to reveal rounded cheeks) and sports gear, culminating with a guy in a colourful windjacket doing a wobbly turn on roller-blades. Soon they are down to skin, a rubbery horse’s head and white socks being the only attire of one model.

Children of Chemistry comes back to quiet as the lights go down, one bare shoulder illuminated in the fading light as all five lie face-down, bums up like five children sleeping in the same bed.

In his notes, choreographer and costume designer invites us to watch this show and “queer up the world together.” He’s got a point: it’s for our own good, whoever we are.

Children of Chemistry

Choreography by Sébastien Provencher

Music by Hani Debbache

Lighting design by Nancy Bussières

Presented by Citadel Compagnie at The Citadel, Toronto, until February 22

Photo of  Jean-Benoît Labrecque, Miguel Anguiano, Alexandre Morin, Louis-Elyan Martin and Jossua Collin by Justine Latour