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Alberta Ballet

Celebrating Mozart: 'Pomp Without Circumstance' and 'Mozart's Requiem'

by Kate Snedeker

April 5, 2013 -- Northern Jubilee Theatre, Edmonton, AB

Supposedly, April showers bring May flowers. That may be true in warmer climes, but in Edmonton, April snow brings the Alberta Ballet. For their April 2013 visit, the company provided a well-needed energy boost to winter-weary Edmontonians in the form of a balletic celebration of the music of Mozart. The program, comprised of a brand new ballet by company veteran Yukichi Hattori and a revival of Jean Grand-Maitre's triumphant 'Mozart's Requiem', brought together the dance of Alberta Ballet, the music of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and voices of the Richard Eaton Singers Chorus.

The evening opened with Yukichi Hattori's "Pomp Without Circumstance", a fanciful frolic through Mozart from Figaro to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The ballet's tongue in cheek humor and allusions to great variety of choreographic motifs reveal Hattori to be choreographer with a great knowledge of ballet and a clever mind. The curtain rises to “Etudes” with Alberta attitude - a row of bejewelled pointe shoe-clad legs, torsos and heads hidden from view by a curtain. The disembodied legs plie, releve and pirouette with sass and the occasional humorous lack of synchronization. And whoops, was that a gold-lame-dancebelt-wearing escapee from the Elton John ballet being yanked back under the curtain?!

The legs eventually become a flock of ballerinas who prance along to Piano Concerto #21. Squired by two servant cavaliers, the ballerina quintet strike poses reminiscent of Balanchine, then morph into an absolutely delightful flock of birdlike creatures complete with coos and clucks. Think the swan corps of Swan Lake infected by the oddness of “Alison in Wonderland's” flamingos mixed with some “Carnival of the Animals” mixed with just a bit of bonkers from William Forsythe's "Impressing the Czar". Trapped in this odd flock are twins - Jennifer and Alexandra Gibson – who dance a clever mirror image pas de deux. If there's any weak link, it's in the relative brevity of the piece: one is left feeling that with an additional 10-15 minutes Hattori could have tied the wonderful pieces together to create a more cohesive ballet.

The evening's main course was “Mozart’s Requiem”, Jean Grand-Maitre's attempt at the ballet epic. The piece combines his choreography with the music of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the voices of the Richard Eaton Singers Chorus, arrayed in a three-tiered shelf-like set along the back of the stage. There are few choral pieces more glorious than Mozart's Requiem, but the ballet - despite its best intentions and dancing - misses the emotional core of the music and becomes an uncomfortable mix of comedy and tragedy. For all the lovely dancing, it's Requiem-lite with a touch of "Amadeus".

The flaw in the ballet is perhaps epitomized by the central conceit of the piece - the living statue of Mozart (a poignant Yukichi Hattori) who watches over - and occasional joins - the choreographic journey through his life’s losses. Hattori, completely white from head to toe - spends most of the ballet with his feet buried in a pedestal, conducting, swaying and bending to the music; only later is he is allowed to escape the pedestal to dance and grieve. It is a testament to Hattori’s talents that he was able to bring some pathos to his role but more often than not, this spectral Mozart seemed like one of those buskers at tourist sites who dress up as ‘living statues’. This kind of quirkiness might be right at home when the tragedy is drugs & Elton John, but it does not work with a requiem mass.

Similarly, the trio of dancers representing Death, with their slightly silly skull-faces and lightweight choreographic motifs, came off as more Disney than damning. Their power only came out in when they were dancing in shadow - with faces hidden, one could focus on their long, scything limbs thrown into highlight against the light background. As one of these death figures, Mark Wax proved yet again that he is one of the top male talents in this company, giving a superb performace.

As if to try and insert some real tragedy into the piece, Grand-Maitre stuck in two blatant illusions to current tragedy –a trio of modern soldiers, arrayed in a Iwo Jima-like tableau and a video of the Twin Towers crumbling down projected on a scrim. To this New Yorker, the use of the latter imagery was very uncomfortable given that this was a ballet choreographed in 2008 for a Canadian company. If you have use imagery from 9/11 to inject emotion into a ballet set to a requiem by Mozart, the ballet is sorely lacking.

The strongest sections - those where the corps de ballet, in skin-colored leotards (ladies) and trunks (men) or in long flowing skirts, twisted through Grand-Maitre's scissoring, linear lifts – were also the simplest. In these interludes, one could appreciate the beauty and power of the dancer's bodies, and the interplay movement and music. Once again, no one could match the cool muscularity of Kelley McKinlay - you can't say it too often: more McKinlay please!! Equally touching was the tableau of life - a pregnant woman, a woman with a child (Hattori's daughter) and an older woman. Each danced with eloquence and elegance until death came to steal them away, leaving only the mother behind, mourning her loss. Equally poignant was the scene of Death dancing with the limp "body" of a young girl, all long hair and dangling limbs. There was a sad elegance and grace to the "movement" of the girl's limbs as her body was swept along in the arms of death. These memorable scenes have a lasting impact and form the core beauty of the ballet.

Kudos to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Peter Dala, and to the Richard Eaton Singers Chorus and soloists. It was a shame, though, that the (overmiked?) orchestra tended to overshadow the chorus, particularly in the beginning. If the choir is at the back of the stage, it is vital to ensure that their sound is projected to the audience as well as that of the orchestra.

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