by Leland Windreich
February 22, 2008 -- Norman Rothstein Theatre, Vancouver, B.C.
Kelowna (pop. 100,000) is a city on Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, and it has a singular ballet history. In 1958 it became the home base of the Canadian School of Ballet, established by Royal Winnipeg Founder, Gweneth Lloyd. Today it supports a thriving chamber ballet company organized in 2002 by David LaHay, former principal dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and a respected ballet pedagogue throughout Canada.
LaHay, who takes his six-member troupe to smaller communities in B.C., ventured into Vancouver this year with a choice and remarkably performed repertoire. His four women and two men displayed a command of several styles, ranging from the piquant figures of Bournonville’s “Flower Festival at Genzano Pas de Deux” to the brash, energetic requisites of Josh Beamish’s “The Red Nocturnal”.
LaHay’s “Allegro Per Tre”, set to the overture to Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla” is a tour de force of classical ballet challenges in which the lithe Jean-Daniel Bouchard supports in tandem the tutu-clad Cristina Graziano and Angel Jutzi, who display with confidence their mastery of the academic vocabulary. The Bournonville episode, with its fiendishly difficult footwork, had an adept performance by Siobhan Barker and Rocky L. Gagne. Neither dancer has the ideal physique for the Danish school, but their technical accomplishments were noteworthy.
Two contemporary ballets, “The Red Nocturnal” and D.A. Hoskin’s “Affairs of the Heart” are hard-edged, high-energy creations that make monstrous demands on the dancers. The Hoskins piece, performed to a live violin and piano duet by Marjan Mozetich, is more lyrical, depicting a woman’s relationships with a variety of partners. The Beamish work has a Latin flavour, with hints of the tango. It requires fierce precision with its jazzy contortions, overhead lifts, falls and recoveries and split-second transitions. It has no discernible shape and falls into the category of what we used to call an “arms and legs ballet.” But both new pieces have been wisely chosen for a tour which will be reaching young people in many communities, who will find these remarkable endurance tests far more stimulating and relative to their tastes than the classical pieces.
LaHay’s choice of works reflects his own catholic interests. He chose to present on this tour a restoration of one of Canada’s first significant ballet creations, Vancouver’s own Kay Armstrong’s “Etude”, created in 1949 to the music of Tchaikovsky’s “Barcarolle from “The Seasons”. The serene, glowing little piece lasts five minutes and is performed by a man and three women. After its Vancouver premiere, it was taken to the Canadian Ballet Festival in 1950 and was seen by Celia Franca, then preparing a debut of the National Ballet of Canada. She acquired the work for her company, and it was the highlight of the first Toronto program. Since then it has been revived for various festivals and special performances.
Local audiences were quick to acknowledge what appeared to be the influence of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” in at least three formations of the dancers. But Armstrong’s biographer Kaija Pepper, who supervised the reconstruction of the ballet, insists that Armstrong never saw that work and that her inspiration came from her own perceptions. The choreographer, now 86, was in the audience, along with a number of her former students.
David LaHay is an energetic, intelligent, knowledgeable and canny artistic director who displays impeccably trained dancers in an eclectic performance. His little troupe is a joy to watch.