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Winter Mixed Program

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So, I've seen last night's performance (Feb 20th).

It started with Napoli Excerpts (Flower Festival-Pas de Six-Tarantella) staged by N. Hubbe. Flower Festival was danced by Heather Ogden and Guillaume Cote. He was very charming, and felt more at ease with Bournonville's choreography and style (although I wish Alexandra could have been the judge of that ;) Ogden is a good technician, but was little bit stiff or maybe she needs to work a little more on connecting steps (at least that's how it looked). In Pas de Six variations I want to credit Jennifer Fournier as I was pleasantly surprised by her performance. I mean she is a loved principal and a good dancer but not my personal favourite. (I usually like her lower body technique, but always felt her port de bras is not clean enough, and sometimes she had lot of tension in her neck during jumps.) Yesterday though, I found her dancing very strong, and her port de bras was very clean and lovely, upper back had proper strength; her whole variation was precise and fast but very fluid and milky. I'm glad she proved me wrong. Overall, all dancers were having fun dancing Burnonville but I think that some still need to perfect their footwork and shoulder line to be able to achieve "the easy flow" of the tricky choreography.

La Spectre de la Rose was the second part - second soloist Keiichi Hirano danced with Stacey Shiory Minagawa.They were very good- she was charming in the role. He was the virtuoso star of the evening though. He has very nice ballon and extremely high jumps. It is great to see that the company has another promising and clean technician (besides Antonijevic and Cote) who is probably ready to try out some of the principal roles. (I think that he handled that tricky port de bras in Le Spectre well, maybe little on a soft side- but definitely owned the role).

The Judgement of Paris is grotesque farce by Tudor. I can't say that I'd personally call it a ballet. But, majority of audience loved it! And dancers were great in the roles- especially Jennifer Fournier (I guess it was her night) and Lorna Geddes -one of the original dancers who danced in the NBoC's first staging of the choreography.

Elite Syncopations also seemed to be loved by the audience last night. For me personally, there is too much of everything (too many dancers and the orchestra all the time on the stage, too much of very colourfull costumes, very fuzzy structure etc.) That being said, I loved female variation danced by a corps member Tanya Howard. She was spunky, had lot of fun and displayed a good technique. Greta Hodgkinson was dancing waltz with Rex Harrington, they are both so charismatic, they can make any choreography work. Also, lot's of fun was a pas de deux " The Alaskan Rag" the way it was danced by the corps members Julie Hay and Daisuke Ohno.

Overall, I think that this program was designed to attract some new audiences (with Bournonville of course being the real treat and the rest more like "ballet is not scary and snooty- it's really funny you see!" idea in mind.) Well, if that will work to open more people to the idea of (more subtle) ballet, that's all fine with me.

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Thanks for that! I just wanted to make sure I was clear on something, though, Saveta. They OPENED with pas de six and tarantella?? If so, that may be the first time in history. I think it's illegal in Denmark to have the tarantella as anything but the last thing on a program! ;) And did they do Flower Festival as a separate piece, or stick it in the middle of the Napoli bits? (which has been done in Denmark, by both Flemming Flindt and Hans Brenaa) Just curious.

The thing to look for in Flower Festival -- it's a small thing, but... -- is the way the dancers do the little flirtatious glances. The timing is terribly difficult and very few non-Danes can manage them. The girl has to almost look at the boy and then look away just in time, and both seem both innocent and flirtatious at the same time. Something in the choreography might interest you -- the full ballet was about a kidnapping. The girl (Rosa) is kidnapped by a bandit and the boy (Paolo, I think) rescues her. So the arm positions in the pas de deux refer to the story. The girl has her hands behind her back several times, and the last time, the boy separates them, as if freeing her from her bonds.

The comments you made about connecting the steps and flow and stiffness made a great deal of sense. Dancers often look stiff doing Bournonville because they're not used to keeping the arms down and have to remember to do it. The trick is to keep them down, but free, and make it look natural.

I'm glad Hubbe is staging Bournonville. He's one of the Hopes for saving that repertory, in my opinion (and that of seeral of the older dancers as well.)

Also, kudos to Kudelka for reviving a Tudor ballet! It sounds as though it's a character ballet rather than a classical one -- rarer still. This may be the only Tudor on the continent, outside of Offenbach, that ABT is doing this season.

Thanks again for your review. I hope others will see the program and write.

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Thanks for your replies Alexandra and Leigh!

Alexandra your remarks on Bournonville are most interesting! I wish to go again and look for all details!

I apologize my report on Napoli was confusing. They opened with Flower Festival Pas de Deux. Pas de six was the second part and they closed with Tarantella (as you thought was logical).

Leigh, I did see TDT in Christopher House's Severe Clear, I loved it was clever, fun and beautifully danced) and will write about my impressions soon. I hope you'll be able to see it too.

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Thanks, Saveta -- no, I understood that. You were very clear. I meant, did the whole Bournonville excerpt begin the program, or end it? I've never heard of it being used as an opening ballet.

Editing to say -- never mind! :) It's in Paula Citron's review. It was the program opener (she also says that this was possibly not a good idea).

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Oh:) Yes, Aleksandra "Napoli Excerpts" are the first part of the evening (followed by Le Spectre, The Judgement of Paris and finally Mac Millan's Elite Syncopations). I would have loved if program had ended with Napoli instead. When I try to think back, I think that is Kudelka's almost standard programming pattern for mixed bills- majority of times a program starts with the classics, and then follow with newer or contemporary pieces.

Leigh, I love Premiere Dance Theatre as well - there are no bad seats, the stage is deep and lovely.

Another cute dance venue is Betty Oliphant's Theatre at National Ballet School- it is smaller than Premiere but very good size for small companies, or solo performances (Peggy Baker presented her program there last month).

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Just my own brief comments on this -

I saw both Antonijevic and Hirano in Spectre - I had a lot of problems with both of them in the role. Antonijevic tends to be very self-absorbed (he has been in everything I've seen him do so far) and Hirano on Sunday matinee just didn't seem to get the ports de bras or the style at all. I'm hoping it was an off day.

I was very interested in Judgment of Paris, if only because we see so little Tudor. It's completely a character work, and the cast I saw was fascinating. I'm very fond of Victoria Bertram. I also think it's great that the National really does include older dancers in their programming, contrary to the impression the Glasco Fiasco might have given.

I also saw His Rexiness in Elite Syncopations at two performances. I know why Elite Syncopations is performed without scenery. He's already chewed it up and spat it out. I have to say I genuinely enjoyed his Canada Grade Fancy Hambone performance. Both Xiao Nan Yu and Greta Hodgkinson looked impressive in the Stop-Time Rag; Martine Lamy was wonderful in the Calliope Rag.

To me, Lamy was the star of the evenings. Last I saw her in Paquita she did not look the way she did in the MacMillan or the Bournonville, where she was extremely fluent and musical - she looked like she wasn't talking a foreign language. I'm also glad I finally got to see Guillaume Cote in the Flower Festival pas. He's very talented.

I understand why Napoli was put first and Elite closed the evening. The Canadians have a tradition with Elite (they've been doing it frequently since 1978) that would be rather like the Danes with Napoli. It isn't be the greater piece of choreography, but it's "theirs" in a way Napoli isn't. In that way, it has pride of place.

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thanks for your comments Leigh! It's great to hear different impressions.

I just want to say that I really like Kudelka's approach, especially last and this season. Besides current stars of the company, he regularly shows off character and more mature dancers, as well as gives nice opportunities to really young ones (like apprentices).

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It appears I'm a bit late here...but will add my non-extert comments anyway.

Daughter and I braved the winter storm on Sunday to see the last performance of the mixed program. Her school had done some of Napoli this past summer, so she was interested to see what NBOC would do. My guess would be that it wasn't the best show for the dancers...there were a number of little things that you wouldn't have expected in a professional production...including one dancer quite obviously losing his stage presence at the end of his variation. The comments with daughter and friend in the lobby were that turns weren't overly well executed.

I had never seen the "Rose" before, although of course have read about it and I admit to extremely high expectations. If I hadn't known some of the history of this dance, I think I would be accusing Kudelka of completely losing his mind. I did not like the costume at all....it was far too pink for me. I had thought it should be more off white? The dancer we saw was not inspired at all, and none of the ballon mentioned for someone else in the role. Daughter commented that he had no "feet". Daughter she did say that the female dancer (Stacy Shori Minigawa, I believe) did do an excellent job. Perhaps this ballet is just a matter of taste...but I would not rush out to buy tickets again.

I agree that Judgement of Paris isn't exactly a ballet, but it was so wonderfully entertaining! Daughter and friends thought (tongues firmly in cheeks) that they should do this for their spring show...the fact that all the dancers were padded to look "fat" was extremely amusing to these teenage dancers.

I personally find Elite Syncopations quite enjoyable, although it's hard to know exactly where to look...there's so much going on. Rex and Nan Yu were an amazing pair...I will watch Nan Yu in particular anytime, anywhere...she is just so lovely. Martine Lamy was also excellent. I quite enjoy the added touch of the musicians on stage...one forgets sometimes how hard they have to work too...

Elite Syncopations was really the only part of the evening that the corps dancers were in. We were so incredibly delighted when one Apprentice dancer, recently graduated from my daughter's ballet school, was dancing in the front row, and on our side of the stage to boot!

All in all, an enjoyable time.

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I found this one of NBoC’s most interesting mixed programs, spanning many periods and styles of ballet history as well as the company’s. All four of the ballets had not been seen in Toronto for several years prior (that I am aware of!). Both Napoli and Elite Syncopations would have been suiting endings to the program, with their carefree and joyful characters. But as Saveta mentioned, Kudelka likes to go in chronological order when it comes to mixed programs!

I liked Napoli, and always enjoy the Flower Festival pdd when it’s well done (I’ll never forget seeing Jamie Tapper and Johan Kobborg). On Saturday night it was danced by Jillian Vanstone and Keiichi Hirano. It was nice to see a corps member in a leading role, and I think Vanstone is definitely a dancer to watch. Of the corps, she is one of the most technically able performers and an asset to the company in difficult choreography. I remember watching her at an on-stage class, doing quadruple and quintuple pirouettes en pointe one after another! No such displays in Napoli, but her confidence on stage is refreshing and lets one really sit back and enjoy the performance. Her footwork was light and her upper body carriage neat and refined. Hirano is a very likeable dancer. His style is easy-going and natural, and his happiness is always infectious- causing us to forgive the small flaws in his dancing (there were only a few, such as the occasional not fully pointed foot or off landing). He also has good stamina which is important in a piece like this. I’m not sure if he’s ready yet to tackle the classical prince roles that Antonijevic and Cote are doing, but he’s definitely improving and developing his stage personality quite well. Vanstone and Hirano are not made for each other, but they performed well together, seemed to trust each other. I appreciated their attention to detail, in each gaze and tilt of the head. It makes so much of a difference.

In the pas de six, Martine Lamy was truly wonderful- a standout performance. Of all the dancers in Napoli, she seemed the most comfortable with the Bournonville vocabulary, calm and at ease. I found that she was able to project her expression and that she was in general very warm and giving. The other dancers were a bit tight and sometimes not together. Footwork was overall very good, but upper body makes all the difference. When the arms were too angular, it offset the balance and gave a strained appearance. Julie Hay was lovely in her variation though. In the Tarantella, Piotyr Stanczyk gave a buoyant variation, a sort of reprise of his Colas a few months back. Daisuke Ohno danced his variation more like a character role (he is cast in a lot of those), muscling his way through some of the steps. Dong Hyun Seo also seemed to lack the refinement of technique and epaulment necessary for Napoli.

I was excited to see Le Spectre de la Rose live for the first time (I saw a video of Baryshnikov before). I am fascinated with anything of the Ballets Russes era, so it was a treat to see this ballet back at the Hummingbird. The mood and aesthetic of the ballet is so different from those of other periods. Some may say that it is a very dated ballet, and I suppose it is, but that’s also what makes it interesting. No one would every create a ballet like that, with a costume like that today! There really isn’t much dancing for the girl here, but Rebekah Rimsay did a nice job with what she got, capturing the dream-like quality just right. Aleksandar Antonijevic was the rose, and as Leigh mentioned, a very self absorbed one at that! I thought his port de bras were lovely though, very soft and romantic. That costume is really something… Few men other than Nijinsky could pull it off, IMO. Like the Mozartiana gigue costume, I’m sure it can feel a bit silly on, and I must applaud anyone who has the guts to wear it! Once again, he displayed his signature smooth technique and soft landings.

Judgement of Paris was another ballet I was looking forward to seeing. I didn’t know what to expect, having only seen 1 picture. Calling it a “ballet” is a bit misleading, but there are several other works that fall under that category too, so I guess we should be open-minded towards the classification! Lorna Geddes, Jennifer Fournier, and Victoria Bertram were hilarious as the “goddesses”! These are 3 incredibly comical and talented women. The costumes (especially the gigantic yellow bow on Venus’ behind), ghastly make-up (bright red blush, heavy eyeshadow, clown lips), and props (a fan, hoops, a boa) were funny on their own and the vulgar wit and characterization by the dancers were even more over the top! I was interested in seeing a Tudor ballet, because we don’t get to see his work a lot here, and from what I saw of The Leaves are Fading, he is a very expressive choreographer. Well this was a completely different side of Tudor! This ballet had me laughing the whole way through, and few ballets make me laugh at all! I would have put it before Le Spectre de la Rose in the program though. Having Judgement and Syncopations back to back was a bit too much fluff.

Elite Syncopations is a fantastic ballet that leaves you in a great mood afterwards. The music is catchy, the costumes are crazy, and the dancers always seem to have a good time too. The stage looked a lot more open, and I agree, it was neat to see all the musicians up there (especially Ormsby Wilkins on the piano, in costume). This ballet is also a very different side of MacMillan, when compared to R&J, Manon, etc. I really enjoyed Solitaire last season, so I’m not surprised that I liked Syncopations. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and MacMillan had a great imagination. Stylistically speaking, I thought the company looked most at home here. All the dancers let loose and went all out (even Richard Landry was a little less serious than he usually is). Tanya Howard relished in the chance to be a flirty tart, and has the most amazing feet! Chris Body was surprisingly comical in the Hot-House Rag. Stacey Shiori Minagawa’s musical interpretation was also a delight, and showed strong control in her extensions. Julie Hay and Daisuke Ohno garnered the most applause and laughs in the Alaskan Rag. Anytime you pair the tallest and the shortest, the results are comic (ok, well maybe it is taken seriously sometimes in pairs skating). After their bows, she picked him up and walked off the stage! But, the show belonged to Rex and Greta (Rex was a last-minute substitute for Geon van der Wyst) in the leads. Rex was as charismatic as ever and Greta was all brazen finesse. At the curtain calls, Rex came out carrying Greta upside down over his head- to thunderous applause. Ever the show-stopper he will remain.

Despite the program’s potential to appeal to a wider audience with such fun pieces, it didn’t appear to sell very well, which is a shame. Elite Syncopations is a great ballet for the company, Napoli cures the winter blahs, seeing the senior dancers in comic roles in Judgement of Paris is a rare opportunity, and from my observation, Spectre de la Rose is not performed very often here or elsewhere.

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Paquita -

on Monday after the concert, I went to the CBC Museum for the ballet exhibit. It's only snippets of information, but one of the interesting things I saw was the company being televised in 1954 performing Tudor's Gala Performance, another work of broad satire, though classical rather than character. Celia Franca played the Russian ballerina. The company's link to Tudor at its inception were very strong.

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Mr. Witchel,

I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who thought something was off with Le Spectre de la Rose. Of course, having never seen it before I really don't know what it's supposed to look like, but to me the arms (Sunday matinee, i.e. Hirano) looked like they weren't quite sure what to do. It was all too much for me on top of the very pink costume.

Interestingly, my daughter knows the gentleman who staged this ballet for NBOC. This morning she talked to him about it (he hadn't attended the Sunday performance). His comment was that the dancer we saw was the better one in the role. I admit that this confuses me somewhat, but perhaps it's due to a combination of my own personal preference and overall lack of dance knowlege.

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mom2 -

There's also a difference between who does better in the studio and what happens on the stage. Mr. Scott might have said something different if he had seen that specific performance. There's at least a chance that Hirano's performance was an anomaly for him - but that's all we get to see.

Antonijevic did not look uncomfortable in the costume - he's in the Nureyev/Malakhov "exotic" mold so he was able to make sense of that. If only he wasn't so into himself. . .

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:) My ballet Oscar goes to Tanya Howard’s cheeky performance as the ballerina siren in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations! At the end of her variation for the Calliope Rag Miss Howard held up a sign with a number that sums up my opinion of her dancing: 10! It was good-bye tutu, hello tuchis! And what a fanny! Tanya Howard stole the show with the most captivating, come-hither, flirty strutting I’ve seen in a about a dozen viewings of MacMillan’s comic masterpiece! I cannot give enough exclamations marks to properly convey how much I loved Miss Howard’s cheeky moves! Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tanya Howard!

Quoting Michael Goldbarth from a review of Miss Howard’s performance in 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?”

I know, I know. I should really stop holding it in and tell the readers of Ballet Alert how I really feel. I will try to be more descriptive in the future.

As for the rest of the evening…Judgement of Paris was likewise good fun but belongs on a smaller stage like the Premiere Dance Theatre. Le Spectre De La Rose also seemed out of place on a large stage. Napoli was very colorful and as with the above 3 ballets, did its part in helping me and many others recover from the February Blahs. And last of all, I would like to pass on kudos to a surprise appearance by Rex Harrington in Elite Syncopations. He was an absolute laugh riot in that ten-gallon hat! Elite Syncopations is so funny it could even crack a smile from Alan Greenspan!

Overall Review of Mixed Program: Performance of Dancers: 19/20. Music: 17/20. Choreography: 16/20. Ballet Magic: 16/20. Sets and Costumes: 16/20. Rating: 84/100.

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Michael - two thumbs up in a row! I am impressed!

Which night did you go? I saw Howard on Sat. Eve, and enjoyed her, but I was even more impressed with Martine Lamy in the rag the next day. I've never gotten the chance to see Lamy look better, and it made the performances for me.

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I'm thinking I need to scrimp those pennies even more so that I can afford to attend more than one show in a run....it does make a difference!

I was equally pleased to see Rex in the huge hat, by the way.

The smoking of cigarettes on stage was an interesting touch...I could actually smell them from where I was sitting! I suppose it's quite true to the period....

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I'd be interested in seeing Gala Performance. Unfortunately, I never made it to the CBC museum. I think when Celia Franca started the company, some of the first ballets she aquired were by Tudor. It would be nice if they would revive some of them, I'm sure "The Leaves are Fading" would be popular with audiences and the dancers. Torontonians lean towards classical pieces, so character ballets like Judegement don't seem to sell as well. But Leaves is very classical, and I've been dying to see the entire thing. (Only seen excerpts from ABT and Kirov).

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