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Seventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize

by Denise Sum

March 3, 2007 -- Four Seasons Centre for the Arts, Toronto, ON

The Competitors

  • Misty Copeland and Jared Matthews, American Ballet Theatre
  • Tina Pereira and Keiichi Hirano, The National Ballet of Canada
  • Yuhui Choe and Fernando Montaño, The Royal Ballet
  • Yao Wei and Ulrik Birkkjær, The Royal Danish Ballet

The Judges

  • Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director, American Ballet Theatre
  • Karen Kain, C.C., Artistic Director, The National Ballet of Canada
  • Jeanetta Laurence, Assistant Director, The Royal Ballet
  • Frank Andersen, Artistic Director, The Royal Danish Ballet

The Hosts

  • Rex Harrington, O.C., Artist in Residence, The National Ballet of Canada
  • Veronica Tennant, C.C., Former Principal Dancer, The National Ballet of Canada

i. Overture

Music director, David Briskin, led the National Ballet of Canada orchestra in an excerpt from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

ii. Opening Remarks

Veronica Tennant paid tribute to Celia Franca who passed away in February and Rex Harrington gave a short speech about Erik Bruhn’s legacy, accompanied by a slide show projected onto a large screen on stage.

iii. Classical Repertoire

1) Bluebird Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty, choreography after Marius Petipa (Yuhui Choe and Fernando Montaño, The Royal Ballet)

The Royal Ballet couple started off the evening by setting a very high standard. Choe demonstrated clean, polished execution and steady balances throughout. As the bluebird, Montaño had good elevation and an elegant line that comes from his use of the upper body. It was a technically impressive, although not very exciting, performance.

2) Grand Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty, choreography after Marius Petipa (Misty Copeland and Jared Matthews, American Ballet Theatre)

The American couple looked less comfortable stylistically in the classical round. Both dancers were strong and confident, however they did not seem invested enough in the piece and thus, the performance was not totally convincing. Copeland is a dynamic, powerful dancer but her sweeping gestures did not seem appropriate for Aurora. Matthews is an excellent turner, but his transition steps could have been cleaner. Still, the fish dives in the adagio were particularly daring. In the coda, they did an interesting series where they paused after supported pirouettes, Copeland did a port de bras with her leg still in retiré and then immediately went into another supported pirouette. It was a nice touch and something I have never seen before.

3) Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire, choreography after Marius Petipa (Tina Pereira and Keiichi Hirano, The National Ballet of Canada)

NBoC first soloist, Hirano, burst on to the stage and commanded the audience to take notice. His jumps were huge and his landings soft and secure. I have seen him dance several times, but I have never seen him look so strong. Periera, a replacement for an injured Bridgett Zehr, was also a joy to watch. She has very high extensions and a flexible spine, but she also has excellent control. Some parts in the adagio, like a sudden overhead lift with Pereira in the splits, are over-the-top showy—but this is Le Corsaire after all. Hirano’s solo variation brought the house down and eclipsed the performances of the previous dancers. His tours à la seconde were done with textbook placement. In her solo, Pereira had the most beautiful grand jetés. However, this exciting performance took an unfortunate turn during the coda. Hirano started off strong with a diagonale of soaring switch-split leaps but during his manège, he tore his Achilles tendon and hopped off stage, visibly in great pain. For a moment the stage was empty and the audience went silent. Pereira reappeared and bravely soldiered on through her fouettés. She improvised her own ending and won an immediate standing ovation.

 

4) Pas de Deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, choreography by August Bournonville (Yao Wei and Ulrik Birkkjær, The Royal Danish Ballet)

The Danish participants gave a standout performance in this category. What set them apart was the rapport between the dancers and the sensitive acting. The dancers managed to be technically brilliant without being showy. Birkkjær showed crisp batterie and soft arms in his variation, as well as smooth partnering in the adagio. Wei’s movements were delicate and weightless. The pair looked as though they were genuinely enjoying themselves. It was really a complete performance.

iv. Contemporary Repertoire

1) Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet, choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan (Yuhui Choe and Fernando Montaño, The Royal Ballet)

The British competitors did a nice job with this popular piece. Montaño showed a more lyrical side and created beautiful shapes in space with his renversés. There was a lovely flow and continuity for the whole pas de deux and they made the tricky lifts looks easy.

2) Excerpt from Petite Mort, choreography by Ji?í Kylián (Misty Copeland and Jared Matthews, American Ballet Theatre)

Without a doubt, this was the highlight of the evening. Copeland and Matthews held nothing back and their dancing was exhilarating, athletic, and tender. It certainly helps that the music and choreography are masterful and perfectly matched. But the dancers deserve recognition for infusing the steps with passion and style. Even if one had seen this ballet before, it was like seeing it for the first time. The performance was captivating from start to finish-- one fluid, continuous, beautiful phrase.

3) opus, choreography by Tim Rushton (Yao Wei and Ulrik Birkkjær, The Royal Danish Ballet)- World Premiere

Petite Mort was a tough act to follow, but Wei and Birkkjær delivered a stunning performance in their own right. The pas de deux is accompanied by a pianist on stage, playing Kitsch Music No. 1 & 2 by Ukranian composer Valentin Silvestrov. It is a mood piece, filled with suggestions of longing. The costumes were a deep purple and simple in design, and the dancers were in soft shoes. Once again, the dancers had a tangible connection on stage and wonderful stage presence. This contemporary piece really showed a lyrical quality in both of the performers. Wei, in particular, looked ethereal and elegant. The flowing choreography showed off her lightness and extension. Birkkjær was an ardent partner and his series of pirouettes en dedans was flawless. The choreography felt somewhat generic, but there were some brilliant moments that Wei and Birkkjær brought to life.

4) Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet, choreography by John Cranko (Tina Pereira and Guillaume Côté, The National Ballet of Canada)

After intermission, everyone was wondering what would happen to the Canadian team. The hosts announced that Hirano had torn his Achilles tendon and would be replaced by NBoC principal Guillaume Côté, who happened to be in the audience that evening. The scheduled premiere of Sabrina Matthews’ veer was to be replaced by Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet pas de deux. Despite the drama of the evening, Pereira rose to the occasion and performed like a true professional. She was lucky to have Côté as her very able partner. The choreography is filled with quick and difficult lifts and throws that the pair managed to pull off with finesse. Under any circumstances, this would have been considered a solid performance. Under the special circumstances, what Pereira and Côté did was extraordinary.

v. Tribute to Glen Tetley

In memory of Tetley, the NBoC performed his haunting work, Voluntaries. The company looked in fine form, although there were a few minor bobbles in the corps. In the principal roles, Greta Hodgkinson, Aleksandar Antonijevic, and Xiao Nan Yu were phenomenal.

vi. Awards Ceremony

Best Female Dancer – Tina Pereira

Best Male Dancer – Ulrik Birkkjær

Congratulations to all the participants!

 

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