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The Contract

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I attended the performance last night, to see what all the hype was about! I don't have much to say that the newspaper critics didn't cover, so if anyone is interested you can read the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun's reviews on the NBoC website: www.national.ballet.ca, along with an interesting article on the creative process.

The set is really quite interesting. Michael Levine created a replica of a gymnasium, complete with exit signs, pipes, plastic chairs etc. There were no wings, and it created a real, closed in atmosphere. There is no curtain, just a black, sheer layer with a door in it that goes down at intermission. Kudelka originally didn't want any breaks, but settled for 1 intermission. I can see why he wanted the ballet to be continuous. There are no pauses, and the dancers are more or less on stage for the entire thing. There aren't any good parts to stop the action. After the intermission the ending seemed a bit abrupt.

The original score was composed by Michale Torke. The music was varied, and sounded a bit like a movie soundtrack, but without a clear and repetitive theme. Some segments including singing, by soprano Jennie Such. At one point her voice sounded very ugly and screeching, and I'm not sure if it was intended, but she sang beautifully elsewhere.

The story (by Robert Sirman): A small, rigid community (all dressed in dark green- almost black) gathers in a community hall. The children give a performance of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (this segment of the ballet has no music, just a narration of the poem). The stage within a stage idea is not original, but always seems neat. A celebration with dancing follows. Suddenly, Will, returning from a trip enters. He brings with him a movement disorder, a sort of twitch that spreads to the young people he dances with. The adults and elders look on in horror as all the young people are infected. Dot is Will's fiance. Her mother tries to interfere and catches the disease too. Everyone stops dancing. Chaos insues (an amazing dance number here with lots of jumps). Eva, an outsider (dressed in beige) enters, claiming healing abilities. The citizens make a contract with her, so she will cure the infected people. One by one, she heals all the victims. Writhing in agony on the floor huddled together, it looks like some sort of hell, and slowly each person crawls up a ramp where Eva lays her hands on them, and they stand up and walk down the other side of the structure which has steps. This is repeated many times, building up to a musical climax, and creates a very strong, memorable image. Exhausted, Eva lies down on the stage. The men and women go to sleep, on opposite sides of the stage, in curtained-off sections of the hall. (brief intermission here).

Eva wakes up and dances a heartfelt solo. Will enters and watches in secret, finally approaching her. They dance a passionate pdd that ends with Eva taking off Will's pants and lying on top of him. A child peers in, and sees it all. An elder follows, outraged. The community decides to break the contract. The children side with the wronged saviour and follow Eva out of the city.

All in all, I am not much of a Kudelka fan. The only ballet of his that I really enjoy is the Four Seasons. I find that he is often too literal, and that was one of the weaknesses in the Contract's choreography, IMO. Some of the actions and gestures, i.e. pointing, hands on head, covering eyes, Eva reaching to her heart just seemed too blatant and ruined the subtle effect of an otherwise outstanding creation. The obvious connection between Eva and the Pied Piper did not need to be further accentuated with Eva running off with the kids wearing the exact same cape that he wears in the play at the beginning. He is also very literal with the music. It's hard to express, but each beat has a rigid movement and I feel like saying 'not every single beat has to be a separate step!' i.e. a slow sweeping movement can cover a bar of music, etc. It's more important to capture the essence of the music and phrasing... but I know choreographing, while simmultaneously driving a narrative is an extremely difficult task. In all fairness, there were some magical segments of the ballet. The beginning has a full stage of 3 generations of dancers ( incl. NBS students), doing chasses and swaying side to side. The steps are simple, stripped of excess, and quite powerful. The grief of the citizens after witnessing the incident between Eva and Will is strongly conveyed in the dancing. Kudelka also uses some imaginative formations.

As for the dancers, they all did an excellent job. The children were together, and the corps were excellent. As the unforgiving elder, Rex Harrington was quite a presence. As Will's parents, Xiao Nan Yu and Aleksandar Antonijevic combined technical ease with dramatic interpretation. Will was danced by the young Guillaume Cote, who also gave an extraordinary performance. However the show really belonged to Martine Lamy, whom the role of Eva was created on. She danced with openness, sensitivity, and raw emotion.

The entire audience was on it's feet at the end, and I was happy that the ballet was well received. I think, more than ever, Torontonians want to embrace something new. Certainly, Kudelka should be commended for an incredible effort and unique concept. This is a huge landmark for the company. A lot of collaboration and work has gone into it, and I believe it is a successful attempt at a ballet for the modern times. It addresses themes of moral responsibility, betrayal, redemption, social anxiety... oh yes, and Kudelka's favourites: love, sex, and death (the ballet was 'PG-14').

I spotted Kevin McKenzie, Peter Martins, and Reid Anderson in the audience (in town for the confrence hosted by NBoC amongst other artistic directors). Interesting to see what they thought...

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Kudelka Town’s in Hummingbird,

By famous Toronto city;

Where the River Dances, polluted and wide,

Take me for my word,

A more unpleasant ballet you never spied;

But, when begins my ditty,

This past Friday ago,

To see the balletomanes of Meltropolis suffer so

From Kudelka’s choreography, was a pity.

The Contract is not a full-length ballet. The puck dropped at 7:35 pm. Act one was over at 8:30. After a 20-minute intermission, the ballet resumed-mercifully ending at 9:25. I want a lot more ballet for my buck! With a top ticket price of 110 Canadian guilders, you better give me more than a one-act ballet stretched into 2 acts. Cut back the gratuitous epileptic scenes and cut out the seduction scene and you have a nice one-act ballet for a mixed program. If the National tours Canada with this adults’ only ballet, they could cause more harm to themselves than good.

The Contract should be about creativity and how education educates the creativity out of us. Think backwards to your public and high school daze: the uniformity; the bland white gymnasium walls; the brain draining florescent lighting; two times two must equal four, etc. etc. etc. We all had to think the same way, wear the same clothes, move exactly the same way. Creativity is bad for you. There is only one right answer to each question. Don’t think for yourself. Day after day after day-that’s what they massaged into our 56 ounces of mush!

In this ballet within a ballet, we along with the dancers of the National Ballet of Canada watch the dancers of the National Ballet School perform The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Like the Piper, Eva (a.k.a. the Goddess of Creativity) attempts to draw out the child (creativity) in all of us adults (puritanical conformists). Though pushing the big Four O and despite a fall, Martine Lamy treats us to a titillating performance as evangelist/faith healer/seductress Aimee Semple McPherson. Those of us well-healed enough to sit close to the stage sat eyeballs glued to Lamy-leaving very little to the imagination in a beige diaphanous dress.

In real life, Aimee Semple McPherson (1890 - 1944) captured the imagination of millions turning people on to Jesus Christ through methods considered very unique in her time. The blond bombshell’s sermons were often dished out with music and theatre. It was not unusual to see a short story from the bible acted out on her stage (the Angelus Temple which coincidentally cost the same to create as Kudelka’s Contract: $1.2 million)! The only thing that rivaled ASM’s appetite for religion was her appetite for men. She married thrice and her many lovers included Uncle Milty (Milton Berle)!

Back to our ballet… After saving the budding adults from the death of creativity, which comes in the form of the above mentioned far too long epileptic fits, The Goddess of Creativity looks for the prudish Dancers of Hamelin to fulfill their end of the contract. The denouement of the ballet comes when she mounts Will (Guillaume Côté) as wide-eyed children watch. (Despite the fairy tale theme, nobody in public school should view this X-rated ballet.) The Hamlet’s elders put a coitus interruptus to Kudelka’s Muse making out with young Will and in the end, it’s the elders who are revealed to be the true rats. Just like the rats of Hamelin, they too are expelled from their Hamlet. By the way, Stratford Actor Tom McCamus (recorded on LP not live) did a wonderful job narrating Robert Browning’s verse.

There is much to love about the Contract. The lighting was almost Da Vinci like. Unfortunately, I enjoyed watching the shadows dance more so than the dancers themselves. One to keep an eye on is the lovely Tanya Howard. She’s far too beautiful and far too talented to remain in the corps de ballet. Kudelka better create some soloist roles for her soon before she’s stolen by another company more appreciative of her beauty and dazzling dance technique.

This is a very painful ballet to watch. As mentioned, Kudelka devotes an inordinate amount of time showing us the death of creativity delivered to this reviewer’s eyes in the form of a virus attacking the body of humanity. Once again, Kudelka was masterful in utilizing the talents of the entire company: from the National Ballet School to the corps de ballet to the older character artists. To tell Kudelka’s story we needed 4 very distinct musical themes: classical, hymns on full pipe organ, swing, and hot provocative jazz. Michael Torke’s score, though very pleasing to the ear, was far too uniform.

Now if only Kudelka can edit this work down to one act he may have another masterpiece on his hands. Mr. K. tried to write too much into his Contract. It’s ridiculous to try and squeeze The Pied Piper of Hamelin plus the real life story of Aimee Semple McPherson into one ballet. Given McPherson’s Canadian roots (Salford, Ontario), does she not merit a ballet of her own? I know what you’re thinking! Who would we get to play Uncle Milty? Why…James Kudelka would be a perfect choice-in full drag of course! Unless you’re a diehard ballet/Kudelka fan, you’ll only sign on to this Contract one time.

Performance of Dancers: 17/20. Choreography: 12/20. Costumes, Sets & Lighting: 17/20. Story: 8/15. Music: 9/15. Ballet Magic: 6/10. Rating: 69/100.

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creativejuice, thank you for your review. I agree with a lot of what you said, although I'm not sure if "The Contract should be about creativity and how education educates the creativity out of us." The more urgent message seemed to me to be one of moral conflict rather than the suppression of creativity (though that too was one of the themes, the sets and costumes reflecting a rigid and unforgiving community). The ballet points out that children learn from adults' actions rather than words. Though the adults tell them Eva is a sinning whore, they quickly see the elders' own hypocrisy. It addressed the problem- when do children turn away from adult convention and dictatorship and begin to make their own judgements when the adults do not make good examples?

I also believe it deals with the inherent problem that comes in trying to shelter our children and keep them pure- children, by nature, are not pure to start with. They posess a dark side that society has always had difficulty in confronting. Getting a little Jungian, one might argue that the rats in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" are a symbol of the unconcious mind. But by trying to rid the town of the rats (or, their unconcious) the adults must sacrifice their children because the children, too, represent that part of the mind.

Another interesting issue in the ballet is collective paranoia and xenophobia, our actions as manifestations of our fear of uncertainty and instability. I think it is quite relavent today, with recent hysteria over AIDS, Ebola, anthrax and other epidemics.

It's intersting how audience members can each get something so different from the same performance, but Kudelka did say "ambiguity is essential" (in narrative ballet).

Perhaps the only message that was clear, not ambiguous, was that broken promises have serious consequences!

I found it a bit short too, but loved the lighting. Tanya Howard is really a lovely dancer, and very talented. I saw her as a gypsy in Romeo and Juliet. The only thing that bothers me about her is her 'broken wrists', but that can easily be corrected. I watched her a lot during their on-stage class, and she has a lot of spirit in her dancing. A pleasure to watch. Oh yes, and the most *gorgeous* feet!!!

Yes, I was thinking the ballet could be shortened to 1 act. That way there wouldn't be any intermissions. I though the first part, with the children putting on the play was cute, but not essential- or maybe it could be condensed a little. The only thing is, what other ballet could you present this ballet with?

I think they are touring in Ottawa soon, and wonder how it will be received there... It's not a crowd-pleaser, but I think Ottawa would like to see what new stuff NBoC is doing these days. Usually, they only get the Nutcracker, or maybe Swan Lake.

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I agree with much of what you said as well. The Contract is definitely “not a crowd-pleaser.” It may have appealed to half the audience and that’s only because that half are either volunteers for the National Ballet of Canada, friends or relatives of the dancers, former students or students of the National Ballet School, or ballet fanatics. Casual or 1st time ballet fans are not going to want to see a full diet of Contract like ballets. They want classics or something with entertainment value. Of course, that is only my opinion. I did overhear a few ballet fans in line at a restaurant across the street from the Hummingbird Centre and needless to say they were not overly impressed with the way they spent 2 hours of their evening. Bottom line: If the NBoC wishes to prosper they better start making ballet that will appeal to the casual or 1st time ballet fan.

I’m glad we’re also in agreement about the beauty and talent of Tanya Howard! She’s got loads of potential. Quoting myself from a review of Don Quixote:

 “The next time the National rolls out this classic, keep your eyes peeled for a bronzed goddess by the name of Tanya Howard in the role of Mercedes or possibly even Kitri.  She showed promise galore as one of the gypsies.  Even when her variation ended, I could not unpeel my eyes from this beauty as she caught her breath at the side of the stage.  Tanya Howard possesses a hedonistic beauty worthy of the paintbrush of Hieronymus Bosch.  She’s much too much the silent screen vamp to be painted by Edgar Degas.  Erotic beauty such as hers belongs in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights!  By the way, Tanya Howard can also dance her tutu off!  Keep both eyes on this beauty in the corps de ballet.  She’s a future Carmen.  In case I haven’t made myself 100% clear, I’m totally gaga over her!!!  Woof!  Woof!!  Who let the dogs out?”
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