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Desir & Madame Butterfly

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I went to see this mixed program tonight, and also on wednesday evening. I don't really like how people distinguish between the "first cast" and "second cast" etc. (unless it is a new work that the choreographer set on specific dancers), just because a lot of people assume that the first cast is "the best" one and so on. Sometimes there is truth in it, but I find that more often the casts are simply too different to compare. One is not necessarily superior to the other. Comparing the 2 performances I saw, that was definitely the case. However, the opening night cast (corps included) had a much better "night", they were more "on" than the dancers I saw today.

The NBoC performed Kudelka's DESIR first. I saw this ballet- originally created for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens- about 4 years ago. I was kind of indifferent to it then, and going into the theatre this time, I had little recollection of the work. This time was quite different though. I enjoyed it a lot more. For one thing, I was much more familiar with the music this time- Prokofiev's Waltz Suite Op.110 (from the ballet Cinderella and the opera War and Peace), or at least some of the waltzes, having performed myself in a piece to the same music. I really adore the energy and mood of the music. And it was of course, interesting to see how Kudelka interpreted Prokofiev's score over a decade ago for DESIR, after having seen him do it again for his CINDERELLA that premiered last spring.

The ballet has no plot, it is centered around 3 main couples- depicting different manifestations of passion and love. The soloists are supported by a corps of 4 other pairs. The setting and costumes are simple, but effective. The women are dressed in long red, purple, and orange dresses with soft, flowing skirts. The men wear simple dark pants and loose neutral or pale coloured long sleeve shirts. They dance in front of a black backdrop under a full moon, and at certain points, stars (they appear and disappear). The women's colours shine vividly, while the men's are like shadows.

As much as the ballet shows connections between lovers, it is also about the distance between them. The beginning and ending of the ballet seem to express this well. We see the same couple in both parts. When the curtain rises, the couple faces each other, standing straight. They are communicating, but they are an arms-length away from each other. They begin to dance, slowly, and then faster until they are moving wildly, in daring lifts and turns- typical Kudelka. There is just a hint of danger. In the final scene, the man lifts the woman, and she slowly slides back down to the ground, avoiding his gaze and turning away. It is a somewhat unresolved ending. It's been said that Kudelka choreographs difficult steps and combinations because he wants to see that struggle come across. Well, it's a fine line between daring and struggle. Wednesday's couple was Sonia Rodriguez and Patrick Lavoie. Their pdd was secure while pushing the limits. Today it was Stacey Shiori Minagawa and Kevin Bowles (a corps member). Minagawa showed polish and attack, but did not seem to be fully supported by her partner, so she was tentative at parts.

The second pdd is sharp and hurried. It was danced well by Je-An Salas and Piotr Stanczyk (wed.) and Tanya Evidente and Keiichi Hirano (sat.), although Salas danced with a little more zest. This couple is the only one that stays in tact throughout the ballet. The others separate and rejoin.

A highlight of DESIR is the 3rd pdd, in which the rift between admirer and admired is clearly shown. The pdd ends with the ballerina standing tall, and the man, prone of the floor, kissing her foot (well, pointe shoe). The woman is tall (with incredible extensions) and commanding. Greta Hodgkinson (wed.) was sublime in her smooth adagio and cool demeanor. Ryan Boorne partnered her well. Tanya Howard must have been an obvious choice for casting in this role. She has very long legs and knee-to-ear developes. She danced with the up-and-coming Nehemiah Kish. They received ethusiastic applause for their intricate contorsions. I remember seeing Xiao Nan Yu in this during its last run and she was simply perfect.

The dancing for the corps is witty and a little playful, bringing out some of the lightness in the music. Today the dancers were a little out of sync is certain parts, which took away some of the effect.

It is a interesting ballet, and shows off the dancers talents well. I'd be interested to know whether it is still currently performed by Les Grands? I think they could do it splendidly!

The second ballet was Stanton Welch's MADAME BUTTERFLY. The dancing was top-notch all around and the music superb, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the ballet itself. It is a beautiful production. I enjoyed the sets and props (such as huge butterfly wings on sticks that appear in the beginning and end)- they were used to good effect. There is a charming dance with fans for Butterfly and Suzuki behind paper screens (so only their silhouettes can be seen). Some of the costumes, especially Butterfly's are lovely. When she first enters, she is seen as a vision all in white, multiplying as smoke rises. It reminded me of the entrance of the Shades in La Bayadere.

The choreography, however, is unmemorable and not terribly imaginative. Or worse, certain parts are memorable because they almost made me laugh in their melodrama. Bits of comic relief felt out of place in this tragic love story and the story gets muddled in the crowded stage. Other things are glaringly obvious, and IMO, over-done. How many times does Butterfly have to bow down to the American flag anyway? Then again, I have yet to see the opera, so it is difficult for me to comment on some things. The Act I pdd was mostly sincere and exciting, the final scene was also extremely moving- although this probably should be credited more to the dancers performances. Chan Hon Goh was especially dramatic in the role. Just before she ends her life, she is on the floor and reaches out towards to audience, in a cry for help. The anguish on Chan's face is painfully real. Both Chan (wed.) and Sonia Rodriguez (sat.) are well-suited to the role. They both demonstrated lightness in their dancing and dignity and modesty in their portrayals. Rodriguez's Butterfly was more understated.

The Pinkertons were Guillaume Cote and Aleksandar Antonijevic respectively. Both are associated so closely with prince-type roles, so it was really different to see them in this role. I will never forget Geon van der Wyst's Pinkerton. He was in the audience tonight, actually! Cote brought a youthful charm to the role, while Antonijevic's Pinkerton was more tortured- particularly in the second act. His sadness and regret were extremely convincing.

Kudos to Rebekah Rimsay (wed.) and Je-An Salas (sat.) in the role of Suzuki. Both did excellent jobs as Butterfly's humble servant. There is actually quite a bit of dancing in there for Suzuki. Ryan Boorne (wed.) and Etienne Lavigne (sat.) gave nuanced performances as Sharpless.

Those of you who went, I would love to hear what you thought. Did anyone see the cast that I missed (Stacey Shiori Minagawa and Patrick Lavoie in MADAME BUTTERFLY)? Also, did anyone attend Martine Lamy's "ballet talk"? I missed it tonight, I was still eating dinner! She seems very articulate from the interviews I've read, so I'd be interested in hearing what she had to say.

Next week will be Les Sylphides, La Ronde, and the company's premiere of Opus 19/ the Dreamer, which should be very exciting. It will also be great to hear James Ehnes play the Prokofiev.

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I enjoyed reading your review, Paquita. I felt the same way about Madame Butterfly when it was staged on Houston Ballet a few years back. Perhaps I would have liked it better had I seen Naomi Glass- who was supposed to lead the "first cast"- dance the role of Butterfly, but she was injured before she had a chance to perform it. The press declared Welch's choreography to be in the same vein as MacMillan's, but I wonder if that's anything to brag about. :wacko:

As for the opera and the bowing to the American flag, I suppose it depends on the production. I've only seen Francesca Zambello's and don't recall that at all. However, I doubt many ballets that are based on operas follow the librettos or original production notes too closely.

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