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National Ballet of Canada

'Chacony,' 'there, below,' 'Apollo,' 'The Four Seasons'

by Toba Singer

September 30, 2004 -- Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, California

"It used to be that if something were really, really beautiful, it was regarded as true, but I am more inclined to think the opposite: If something is really, really true, it is beautiful."

Those were the pre-performance musings of National Ballet of Canada's artistic director, James Kudelka last Thursday evening. Two of the pieces in the four-piece program, "Chacony" and "there, below" more than met the requirements of Mr. Kudelka's thoughtfully-worded assay.

"Chacony," with choreography by Mr. Kudelka and music by Henry Purcell, edited by Benjamin Britten, is danced by Guillaume Côté against a set where silken bands cross each other cat's cradle style at center center. Mr. Côté's excruciating suffering is also located center center, as the webbing quarters him and draws from him a fulcrum kind of dancing that pushes from his center and extends to the periphery of the set, and we see an exquisite agony costumed in ritual fringe and animal pelts. Kneeling and standing, kneeling and standing, he is like an indigenous supplicant, a corsaire absent a vessel with which to navigate, and so he spirals out of his dug-in heels, sending bursts of energy into the vortex of the web outside of him from the web of anguish within.

"there, below" insinuates five couples into a kind of red clay, indigo blue nether world that belches smoke and fog. The couples dance through the brume with hunkered arms to find the floor or fold in and out of their couplehood, turning outward or up and down to lend human dimension to the changing architecture of this dance foundry. The iron presence of Patrick Lavoie combined and recombined with the brave profile of Alejandra Perez-Gomez produces an alloy that brightens the space when he lifts her skyward. We see a kind of elegance, borne of nearly mathematical certainty that recalls Mr. Kudelka's earlier words about truth defining beauty. Cannons of partners disperse and reform, unleashing molecular activity that replenishes the chemistry of elegance, as six ceiling spots lend the dark stage a Romeo and Juliet-esque naturalist undertone eclipsed by vapor in the finale.

George Balanchine's noted "Apollo," staged by Ib Andersen to the music of Stravinsky opens from black to the ascendant staircase. Handmaidens unwrap the mummified god and offer him the lyre, as he mimics strings with bellows-like arms. Costumed in a single-shouldered white floaty top and white tights, Guillaume Côté dispatches athletic sautés that drop into Graham-derivative investigations, replete with contractions and lunge-walks. Then he is unaccountably dancing bourées to short phrases of music that work for the piece only when the bassoon comes in to temper them.

We see several many tentative penchées, as the music begins to overwhelm the choreography. This Apollo dances well enough, but he's an unpolished Apollo. The high gloss goes missing. He looks a tad jet-lagged and handles props a bit too gingerly, as you might see in a student showcase, striking a discordant note. The muses acquit themselves well, and Heather Ogden shows nice technique. Côté is not at one with this role as he was in "Chacony." It's more like he's trying it on for size, and though now on the music and then adeptly breaking the continuity by walking raked on his heels, he's not yet the godly fellow we came to see. Up the staircase everyone goes, after a playful diversion with the muses and the handmaidens.

" The Four Seasons" to music of the same title by Vivaldi, opens with a nice bellows-like port de bras by Aleksandar Antonijevic. Lots of temps liés link us with Spring, but the upstage activity of young men flipping over one another across the length of the traveler tends to be rather distracting, especially in cases where they can't hold the arabesques they flip over into. In spite of a lingering unsteadiness, the dancing gets better and more confident as the seasons pile up, and summer really sizzles when we get to see Greta Hodgkinson body-cloche-ing with her partner. Winter brings on the most wondrous surprise -- a senior chorus of dancers in l'hiver of their careers, costumed in raincoats and other gear that hide the burdens of the years, so that nothing but the joy sallies forth. It's all shockingly inventive and therefore truthful, and far and away more beautiful than its Italianate false cognate on the other side of the Bay.

Edited by Lori Ibay.

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