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Opus 19/Les Sylphides/La Ronde Triple Bill

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There was an article in Links on James Ehnes playing the Prokofiev 1st Violin Concerto for the National Ballet of Canada's production of Jerome Robbins' Opus 19: The Dreamer. I just received an email from NBoC announcing the opening of the triple bill (with Les Syphides and Tetley's La Ronde), which is tonight, with performances through this Sunday, 6 March.

I hope people get to see -- and hear -- this program and post about it. :shake: Ehnes is a fantastic violinist, and that he's playing for the ballet is akin to when Elmar Olivera played for Peter Martins' Barber Violin Concerto. This sounds like a wonderful program, and I'm disappointed that NBoC isn't touring west with it (or any other program).

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I attended both the matinee and the evening performance yesterday (Mar.5). What a treat to have James Ehnes playing the Prokfiev :cool: This was my first time seeing Opus 19/the Dreamer, and I really enjoyed the choreography as well as the outstanding performances given by Guillaume Cote (mat) and Aleksandar Antonijevic (eve) in the central role. I heard the violin concerto at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a few months ago (played by TSO concert master Jaques Israelevich). It was one of those pieces I didn't love right away. But after seeing the Dreamer, I find I appreciate the music much more. Robbins brings out the mood and character of the music brilliantly. I loved the fast 2nd movement, which begins with the couple running across the stage. The final pose of the 2nd movement (the man stands behind the woman, curled over her, she is en pointe, in retire but in a deep plie) and the final pose of the entire ballet (too hard to describe in words, but it is in lots of photos!) are striking.

Sonia Rodriguez and Antonijevic were a perfect match in speed and temperament. Cote was wonderfully exhuberent, but his energy and clarity were not matched by his partner, Jennifer Fournier. Kudos to both men for exceptional stamina and technique! The man is on stage for practically the entire ballet!

Les Sylphides looked like a dream, the best I can remember seeing it on this company. This has always been one of my favourite ballets, I can never tire of it. Magdalena Popa's staging is clean and uncluttered. The corps looked very well-rehearsed, they were uniform in every detail from the curve of their arms to the tilt of their heads. The soloists were also impressive. Chan Hon Goh is perfectly suited to the ballet, she danced the prelude and the pdd with Guillaume Cote. Cote was a marvel here- what an arabesque! Such soft landings! In the other cast, Nehemiah Kish danced the poet. He has beautiful lines and just needs to deepen his plie a little bit. Heather Ogden and Burnise Silvius were both lovely in the Mazurka.

Glen Tetley's La Ronde is an interesting ballet, made up of 10 pdd between 5 unfaithful couples. The ballet depicts the hypocrisy of 19th century Viennese society. With each pdd, individuals climb the social ladder. Differences in social class are evident in the decor and costume of each rendez-vous. Yet in the end, the Count is seduced by the Prostitute who appeared in the opening of the ballet (at that time, with a Soldier) and everything has come full circle. The 5 couples come together finally, weaving in and out of each other, searching for some kind of fulfillment. The choreography is blatantly sexual and vulgar at times. Tetley skillfully expresses each character's psychology in their steps, and it is intersting to see how a given character behaves with his/her different partners. For example, the rapturous pdd of the young gentleman and the young wife (not his wife!) is offset by the restraint in the pdd danced by the young wife and her older husband. The "sweet young thing" is dominated by the husband, but nurtured by the poet. And it goes on like this... I felt that it sort of dragged on near the end.

For me, the standout performances came from Tanya Howard as the Prostitute, Rebekah Rimsay as the Parlour Maid, and Stephanie Hutchison as the Actress (I believe this role was created on Karen Kain when it opened in 1987?).

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Paquita, many thanks for the review. I've always wondered what La Ronde was like, and your description makes it much clearer than any other I've read.

I'm also glad to hear about wonderful performances by Antonijevic and Rimsay. I saw Antonijevic in The Four Seasons on the tour to Vancouver during Rex Harrington's farewell season, and there was a bit of general disappointment in the air when people saw that Antonijevic was cast in the central male role. I thought gave an amazing performance, with weight and nuance, and I was just as happy to see him dance. Rimsay also stood out among the women, and I couldn't keep my eyes off of her.

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I just read Paula Citron's review of the program for the Globe: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Art...t/?query=ballet

I was quite surprised that she thought that Les Sylphides looked like "a parody of itself"!

She writes: "it is almost as if Fokine was making fun of the soft, French classical style by cramming everything possible into the piece that denotes the genre."

I always imagined Fokine to be paying tribute in a way to the Romantic period, yet using it's vocabulary to branch out into a new form- a plotless ballet of mood and atmosphere. I really don't think one can look at Les Sylphides as a mockery of any kind... What do you think?

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I think Ms Citron just didn't want to see les Sylphides that night. Calling it a "warhorse" is a little funny. I believe there was some discussion about this a year ago, how rare performances of this piece actually are.

I checked Ms Citron's bio, and I'm sure she's a very nice person, but looking at the concetanation of jobs (a daily; a radio gig, a monthly and a weekly) I can't help thinking it's probably very hard to do anything in the Toronto area without having to pass Ms Citron's approval. Such a monopoly of critical power often makes for these weird snap judgements. Who after all is going to say you're not making any sense?

I was rather amused to see she says "she also has a lively career as a guest lecturer, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer."

And to answer your question, one of the wonderful things of Les Sylphides is it looks backward to the Romantic age - but of course not to make fun of - but it's also, arguably, the first Modernist ballet, looking forward to Balanchine. Fokine, for instance, was one of the first choreographers (if not the first one) who insisted he wanted no applause before the curtain came down.

Maybe in some weird way Ms Citron was associating Les Sylphides with its comic sister, Robbins's The Concert, which is a parody using the same Chopin music in some cases.

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I usually apply the term an “old warhorse” when speaking about those tried and true ppd that get trotted out for all the galas and other special occasions - Don Q, Le Corsair and all the other grizzled veterans of the razzle, dazzle ‘em ballet wars.

Les Sylphides, on the other hand, is done so infrequently that finding it on the season’s schedule is always a treat. I was very impressed by Magdalena Popa’s staging of the ballet - particularly the attention paid to the musical phrasing. For instance, at one point during the final big waltz, the dancer (Ogden and Vanstone at the performances I saw) does a huge pas de basque into a pose attitude that completely matches the swell in the music at that moment. In addition it’s sometimes tricky to establish the soft, dreamy mood of the piece without the dancers looking limp and half asleep and I thought the National dancers achieved the necessary “look” quite well. Not a “languid” one in the bunch! One other thing I noticed about Popa’s coaching was the attention to the hands. Beautifully soft, but still sustained and there was this “tinkling” thing they did with the fingers. I thought at first it was one dancer’s interpretation but then noticed as the ballet unfolded that it was a motif repeated again and again by everyone. Quite charming - like flicking dew off the fingers!

When watching Les Sylphides, I always remind myself that when first produced, it was groundbreaking in its own way and probably rather controversial. The dancers all dressed alike with no distinction made for the ballerinas in either costume or sparkling tiaras broke one of the main ballet conventions of the day. Pavlova, Karsavina and the others must have really believed in Fokine’s genius to agree to something so completely unconventional.

This is going back a long way - but does anyone remember Mary Jago’s dancing in the prelude. I remember you could not hear her feet as she danced - she seemed to melt into the movement. Even after all these years she is the one I hold as the standard for the others to reach for. Of the two performances I saw, I thought Howard’s dancing was the closest to my ideal in Sylphides.

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Many thanks for this review, Noreen. You have a wonderful gift for making the performance come alive.

I seem to have missed your first post, so let me take this opportunity to welcome you to Ballet Talk and say that I hope we'll be reading more of you in the future! :wub:

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