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National Ballet of Canada

"Chroma", "Serenade", "Emergence"

by Kate Snedeker

November 24, 2010 -- Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Baseball season may be over, but the National Ballet of Canada hit a grand slam at Thursday’s premiere of the year’s final mixed bill. The evening started with Wayne McGregor’s fascinating “Chroma”, stepped back in time to wrap the audience in the purity of “Serenade”, and ended in the drone-world of Crystal Pite’s “Emergence”. It was a night where barely a foot was placed wrong; every ballet and every dancer riveting.

With “Chroma”, it is clear why McGregor is considered both a choreographic marvel and one not bound by traditional limits. The way he moves bodies is not easily captured by words, but it mixes an oozing, muscular fluidity with crisp shapes. McGregor pushes dancers to their limits with the women often stretched into hyper-extended splits. The couples contort themselves around each other, but unlike in so many other ballets it’s a push and pull of equals. Perhaps inspired by this new challenge, the dancers, clad in Moritz Junge’s custom dyed flesh-colored costumes , rose to new heights. In the legato central pas de deux, Zdenek Konvalina and Tina Pereira gave a new meaning to control. McGregor’s movement palette was a perfect match for Konvalina’s fluidity and Pereira’s power.

The choreography is enhanced by the inspired choice of a score that includes music by Jory Talbot and Jack White. A surprisingly classical backdrop for such contemporary movement, the music enhances the flow of the dance. Lucy Carter’s lighting design is refreshingly bright, making the dancers’ lines clear against the white sets.

The sight of seventeen women, one arm outstretched in the opening pose of Balanchine’s “Serenade” never fails to inspire a chorus of gasps. It is at once powerful and mysterious; an invitation and a warning of sorts. Debuted in 1935, and tinkered with for many more years, the ballet seems to embody some of uncertainty a young Balanchine felt in the years leading up to World War II. The combination of Tchaikovsky’s glorious “Serenade in C Major” and Balanchine’s evocative steps has few, if any equals in ballet history. Never has music been so indivisible with the steps. The images are also uniquely striking, for instance the groups of women with their arms arranged like petals on a flower and the line of woman melting into the wings as each dancer turns and twists away. And Balanchine chooses a haunting image to end his masterpiece: the central ballerina, in a standing position, is lifted high by three men, and slowly arches backwards as the men, and procession of the corps process offstage. This procession is almost funereal, the ballerina perhaps grasping for a world she must leave forever.

Interestingly, “Serenade” received the least applause of the three ballets. There were a few wayward arms – though certainly no more than what one sees with New York City Ballet – but the overall performance level was very high. We were treated to a lovely performance from Xiao Nan Yu, and McGee Maddox offered solid partnering enhanced by elegant lines.

The evening ended in the eerie world of Crystal Pite’s “Emergence”. Seeing the ballet from stage level, as opposed to from above, gives it a whole new meaning. We’re trapped in a world of drones, simply, but powerfully costumed in black (pl)eather, who revel in collective power. The ballet, with its driving electronic score, shows of the company’s men especially well. Nearly every man in NBoC shares the stage in a stunningly synchronized display of power.

The buzzing sounds suggest that we are an insect-world, but the only thing we can be sure of is that in “Emergence” power is collective and laden with doom. Pite’s fascinating, body-contorting choreography especially focuses on the upper body, turning arms into angular insect legs. At other points, the dancers lie prone on the stage, pressing up with elbows akimbo, looking like creepy spiders or, with the sucking sounds of the music, like strange amphibians rising from the mud. They’re anything but human, and and at times it’s like watching ant is an ant-farm. There is little emotion, but all the same it’s a riveting, cold-blooded drama.

A large part of the ballet’s draw is the way the dancers completely immerse themselves into every step. There is an absolute commitment to the choreography, and it manifests itself into breathtaking synchronization and almost chillingly emotionally blank power. The costumes and the lighting (Linda Chow, Alan Brodie) tended to anonymize the dancers, but Aleksandar Antonijevic still stood out amongst the crowd.

David Briskin conducted.

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