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 Post subject: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:55 pm 
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Alberta Ballet prepares Jean Grand-Maitre's "Cinderella" at Calgary's Jubilee Auditorium on Thursday, February 9, 2012. Bob Clark previews the production for the Calgary Herald.

Calgary Herald


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:10 pm 
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"Cinderella" moves to Edmonton's Jubilee Auditorium for performances on Friday and Saturday, February 17-18, 2012. Bob Clark's preview is reprinted in the Edmonton Journal.

Edmonton Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2012 3:46 am 
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With apologies for being so negative, but this was not an inspiring production. I just can't figure out how a company that put on such a professional, mature production of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy could be encumbered with such an often amateurish looking production of Cinderella. It's a waste of their great dancers, and I can't see the Cubans hanging around long if this is what they're expected to dance.

“Cinderella”
17 February 2012
Alberta Ballet
Jubilee Auditorium North

One of the delights of going to the ballet is seeing the newest generation of ballet fans excitedly awaiting the opening curtain. At the 2012 Edmonton opening of Alberta Ballet’s ‘Cinderella’, the audience was replete with little girls dolled up in their best fairy tale princess dresses. It was a shame, therefore, that the onstage fairy tale didn’t have the same charm and energy.

It’s hard to put one’s finger on exactly why Jean Grand-Maître’s production fails to achieve liftoff, but the company, which soared in last year’s ‘Fumbling Towards Ecstasy’ looked pedestrian in ‘Cinderella’. The problems seemed to lie in a mix of factors including choreography, lighting, costumes and overall concept. One factor that was clearly not a problem, though, was the dancers. With a plethora of new faces, including a trio of former National Ballet of Cuba dancers and a handful of young dancers from the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Onassis School, Grand-Maître has an impressive selection of talent. And the cast, led by company veterans Hayna Guiterrez and Kelley McKinlay danced well, but they just didn’t get much to work with.

This “Cinderella” was, refreshingly, an interpretation that didn’t require reading a book-length synopsis. We meet Cinderella on the day of her mother’s funeral as she struggles with her new family and new, lowly place in the household. Her only friend is a bird-like creature, but her stepmother and stepsisters head off to the prince’s ball, she meets her magical Fairy Godmother. And everyone knows the rest of the story...

Hayna Guiterrez brought emotional depth and precise technique to the title role. As with most of the dancers, she made the most of Grand-Maître’s limited choreographic repertoire, which included sections in soft slippers and pointe shoes. Guiterrez has a gorgeous, high demi pointe, so it was a treat to see her dance without the encumbrance of pointe shoes.

Turning convention on its head, Grand-Maître cast women as the stepsisters and a man as the stepmother. The idea has much potential, but was almost completely wasted because the stepmother role was played so straight. It was the Widow Simone without the playful costuming, cheekiness and the sly ‘yes I’m a guy playing a gal’ humor. Mark Wax, to his credit, made the most of what fun he could squeeze out of the role. Nicole Caron and Alison Dubsky were given much more latitude as the stepsisters, but instead of letting them rely their delightful mime and acting skills, Grand-Maître opted for irritatingly creeching laughs and pseudo-babble.

In another twist, Grand-Maître created two new solo male roles, the Bird Friend and the Jester. The Bird Friend served as a link between Cinderella and the magical world from which the Stepmother emerged, and the role served to highlight Anthony Pina’s control, extension and power. The role of Jester was almost certainly created for Yukichi Hattori, a tiny dynamo who learned his character skills under the tutelage of John Neumeier at the Hamburg Ballet. A tiny dynamo, Hattori blended spectacular technique with a deep understanding of character. His experience shone through in the first act when his pirouette sequences started to slip a touch out of control. Though Hattori never quite got quick back in balance, he was able to push through the technical bobbles without stumbling or breaking character. And then danced flawlessly through Act 2 and Act 3.

As the Fairy Godmother, Mariko Kondo showed off stunning, but controlled extension, and a generous flow. Company stalwart Kelley McKinlay was a fine prince for Gutierrez’s Cinderella, but their relationship was more platonic than passionate. However, lukewarm connection was clearly not of their making, but a result of the lackluster production.

The production had a plethora of problems that the dancing simply could not redeem. At just 1 hour 40 minutes, including three acts and an intermission, the ballet felt very rushed. There was little time to develop the characters, and both they and world that surrounded them – i.e. sets, lighting and costuming – lacked emotional and visual depth. Guillaume Lord’s simple sets cleverly used back lighting to capture action behind the scrim in delightful shadows. Yet, one often yearned for more color, and more things to fill the stage. The costumes, by Martine Bertrand, certainly added color, but as a whole they looked very amateurish. Not only did they have no cohesion in style or time-period, they were often simply unattractive or lacking in professional appearance.

The Bird Friend was encumbered with over-sized moth antennae sticking out of his back, the jester with a pirate’s hat and the Fairy Godmother with what looked like a high-neck Victorian nightgown. There was not a tutu in sight, with Cinderella’s ‘ball gown’ an unimpressive short, white dress with a smattering of sparkles. The Prince’s ball outfit was equally un-fairy tale with low-cut shirt more appropriate to ‘Carmen’ then ‘Cinderella’, and a poorly cut, flappingly loose tailcoat that did it’s best to make McKinlay’s elegant dancing look awkward. It was a relief when McKinlay was finally allowed to ditch the wretched garment. The male corps made off relatively unscathed, but both the fairies and the ball-ladies were clad in very simple, knee-length sheer dresses that had little elegance and fit no-one well.

Grand-Maître’s choreography was more than serviceable, but there simply wasn’t much of it. The most memorable sections were the solos for the Bird Friend and the Jester, which seemed custom tailored to allow the dancers to stretch their particular talents. However, the choreographic palette was very limited, so that the later solos appeared to be close repeats of the earlier ones. Hattori, in particular, was able to partially overcome the repetition by sheer power of character – we’re so enchanted by him that we don’t realize we’re seeing the same thing again and again.
Grand-Maître choreography was pleasant, but lacks the complexity that one finds in works by other classic and contemporary choreographers. He was at his best when moving large groups across the stage, delighting in dancers whisking or leaping across the stage in waves, and in creating circles of dancers weaving around the stage. In these large corps sections, the male corps was beautifully rehearsed with an attention to detail and synchronization that is all too rare these days. Of particular note was Cuban Jaciel Gomez who stood out for the refinement of his dancing. Unfortunately, the lighting was uniformly so dim that one had a hard time seeing even the best dancing.

In the all too brief penultimate pas de deux for Cinderella and her Prince, the choreography was pretty, but as with other Grand-Maître pas de deuxs, very static. The pas de deux was a series of pretty poses with little to connect them. This lack of flow or building emotion reduced the piece to a sequence of pretty pictures.

And then they lived happily ever after… But this fairy tale is one the leaves the audience not quite satisfied. One can’t fault the dancers – they are talented and desperately need a better vehicle for their talents. But the company needs to be creative in coming up with suitably professional classical productions. And, with all the oil money in this province, can some rich company please donate the funds for a live audience for the few productions that use classical music. The company deserves far better than the (at times poor quality) canned music?!!


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:35 pm 
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Salena Kitteringham reviews the Friday, February 17, 2012 performance of "Cinderella" for the Edmonton Journal.

Edmonton Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:08 am 
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Salena Kitteringham previews the March 23-24, 2012 performances of Kirk Peterson's "Swan Lake" for the Edmonton Journal.

Edmonton Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:54 am 
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The Alberta Ballet has a great success in Kirk Peterson's 'Swan Lake'. Of note, Elier Bourzac's wife Patricia Gonzalez is now dancing with the company as a 'local jobber':

“Swan Lake”
Alberta Ballet
23 March 2012
Jubilee Auditorium North

It’s a cold, hard fact of ballet economics that full-length ballets pay the bills. Even sophisticated New York audiences tend to favor the likes of “Swan Lake”, “Nutcracker” and “Romeo and Juliet” over mixed balletic fare. However, in an era of shrinking budgets and rosters, for all but the largest North American companies, tackling a full-length ballet can be a major financial and casting challenge. Fortunately, the Alberta Ballet has met the challenge – and then some – with Kirk Peterson’s charming new production of “Swan Lake”. Complete with gorgeous sets & costumes, solid dancing and live music from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the ballet is a rousing success that should serve the company well in years to come.

A dancer and ballet master at the American Ballet Theatre, as well as a former director of ABT II, and this “Swan Lake” clearly reflected the influence of his many years with ABT. His staging and adaptation of the Petipa and Ivanov choreography returns elements that have been lost from many recent productions, and re-emphasizes the mime. Most strikingly though, Peterson managed to take just thirty odd dancers and create a production that bursts with life and energy. At least part of this success can be attributed to Peter Cazalet’s sumptuous sets & costumes, on loan from Ballet West. The richly colored sets, which are reminiscent of the ABT production, provide depth without impinging too much on the Jubilee Auditorium stage. With Pierre Lavoie’s understated, sepia-tinged lighting, the ballet seemed to leap of out of the world of the unicorn tapestries, a world full of magic, fairy tale and tragedy.

The world premiere cast was led by two of the company’s top talents, Cubans Hayna Guiterrez and Elier Bourzac. A powerful dancer, Guiterrez sizzled as Odile, but hasn’t yet found the right combination of delicacy & strength for Odette. There was too much of tendency towards foreful movement and harsh arm positions to make her Odile seem convincingly vulnerable. This was my first look at Bourzac, and he did not disappoint. Bourzac’s thoroughbred Ballet de National Cuba bloodlines were apparent in his gorgeous stretch and impeccable technique. Clearly a natural turner, Bourzac drew ample applause for his perfectly balanced releve to end his tricky Black Swan pad de deux coda turns. His stage presence was palpable, though as with his mime, there is a slight hesitancy that suggested he was not yet totally comfortable with his new setting. As well, in his otherwise impeccable Black Swan solo, he seemed to be constrained by the size of the danceable stage, nearly stepping on the dancers seated at the back in his preparation and then seeming to dial back his amplitude to keep on the marley. (It reminded me very much of watching the 6ft 4in Kenneth Greve on the small Royal Theatre stage in Copenhagen. The first time I got to see him on the large stage of the Operaen was a revelation – he could finally push his technique to its true potential.).

Guiterrez’s compact, muscular physique was not a natural match for Bourzac’s long, lean lines, but there was no quibbling with the smoothness of their partnering. What was missing however, was a sense of chemistry – their partnership was one more of comfort than of electricity. The one exception was the Black Swan pdd, where Guiterrez came alive, and drew the first passionate response from Bourzac.

It was in the black swan pdd, interestingly, where Peterson made one of his rare poor choreographic choices. In the ending, rather than have Odile finish standing over the kneeling Siegfried, his hand in her hand, her head thrown back in gloating triumph, the two finished facing forward to the audience. This was quite irritating as seemed like a push for audience attention at the expense of the integrity of the story. Their focus should be on each other, not the audience.

Adapting the classic Petipa/Ivanov choreography to smaller flocks of swans is not an easy task, but Peterson’s deft hand made the reduction nearly inconsequential. To this eye, he took a light hand in terms of adapting the original choreography, preserving most of the intricate patterns. The staging of the peasant dances in the first act was particularly successful, bringing a sense of joy and lightness to the stage. If there were any shortcomings, it was in a few odd hand/arm movements for the corps in the final act. Given this palette of fine choreography, the female corps stepped up to the plate and was mostly successful. As with previous performances, the corps danced with a refreshing unity of style, and looked - for the most part – well rehearsed. Cheers for a solid cygnet pas de quatre and a very synchronized swan corps.

The company’s strength has always been – in my eye – it’s male dancers, and their talent was on display in Swan Lake. As Benno , Yukichi Hattori had ample chance to show off his demi-caractare bravura talents. Unfortunately, Hattori is tiny and the height difference between him and his pas de trois ladies (Asaka Homma and Alison Dubsky) was dangerously close to crossing the line into farce. It’s not that Hattori can’t handle the partnering – one scarily off balance turn aside – he partnered both women with aplomb. It’s just than when the height difference starts distracting from the dancing that it becomes a problem. Equally, the jarring height difference between the two lead swans was also distracting. Clearly in a small company, there are limited casting options, but given Hattori’s talent, it would be wonderful if the company could recruit some short women to partner him. Homma and Dubsky were solid, with Homma the standout in the solo fully of quick footwork.
The male corps was flawless in Act 1, but the male quartet in Act 3 had an uncharacteristic meltdown in the Opening of the Court pas de quatre. At more than one point there seemed to be divergences in the choreography – perhaps there was a last minute substitution or change to the chorography (or perhaps a slippery floor, which could also account for Bourzac’s hesitation). The slips ups even extended to the normally impeccable Jaciel Gomez who stumbled out of the final turns. Their jitters, fortunately, did not extend to the
Von Rothbart’s role in this production is fairly understated, but Marx Wax overcame the slightly campy costume (a kind of unpleasant mix of the ABT’s Swamp Thing and human Von Rothbart). He was particularly effective in the final act, battling with Siegfried for Odette’s heart and soul.

The ending is heavily influenced by the ABT version, and while this critic is no fan of the happy ending, Peterson stays well away from the camp. It is, in it’s own way, a satisfying ending to a fantastic new ballet. Certainly the production has room yet to grow, but it’s a terrific addition to the Alberta Ballet repertory and one hopes that ballet and the company will grow together in the years to come.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s score with competence, but there were a number noticeable off notes (especially in the brass section) and very inconsistent tempos. It was not clear whether the variable tempos were at the request of the dancers, or due to lack of rehearsal time with the orchestra, but at several points, particularly in Act 1, the tempo was painfully slow.


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:11 pm 
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Salena Kitteringham reviews the Friday, March 23, 2012 performance of "Swan Lake" for the Edmonton Journal.

Edmonton Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Thu Mar 29, 2012 1:20 pm 
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Bob Clark interviews two pairs of "Swan Lake" principal couples for the Calgary Herald.

Calgary Herald


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:02 pm 
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Bob Clark interviews ballet master Alex Ballard and ballet mistress Beverly Bagg about preparations for "Swan Lake" in the Calgary Herald.

Calgary Herald


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Sat Mar 31, 2012 12:34 pm 
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Bob Clark reviews "Swan Lake" for the Calgary Herald.

Calgary Herald


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 1:15 pm 
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Michael Crabb reviews the Calgary opening of "Swan Lake" for the Toronto Star.

Toronto Star


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 11:44 am 
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In MacLean's, Anthony Davis previews a new hour-long work for the company men, "Dump the Physical Memory."

MacLean's


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2012 12:30 pm 
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In the Edmonton Journal, Salena Kitteringham examines the phenomenon, "Love Lies Bleeding" as Alberta Ballet prepares for performances during May 2012 in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as future performance prospects.

Edmonton Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 12:10 pm 
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In the Edmonton Examiner, Aspen Gainer previews the May 10-12, 2012 performances of "Love Lies Bleeding."

Edmonton Examiner


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 Post subject: Re: Alberta Ballet 2012
PostPosted: Fri May 11, 2012 12:45 am 
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“Love Lies Bleeding”
Alberta Ballet
10 May 2012
Jubilee Auditorium North, Auditorium


If there’s any ballet that defines Alberta Ballet, it’s Jean Grand Maitre’s Elton John tribute, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’. One part sexy sass, one part rock n’ roll, and one part quintessential Grand Maitre choreography, the ballet is a whole lot of fun. A showpiece for the company’s tiny tour de force, Yukichi Hattori, “Love Lies Bleeding” dances through the life of Elton John, highlighting his lows, his highs and his memorable music. Taking us from Bennie and the Jets to Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, the ballet is a rousing success, a feast of dance, music and the Alberta Ballet.

While framed by Elton’s memorable music, the ballet is all about the visual – Grand Maitre’s sculptural choreography, the deliciously sexy Martine Bertrand costumes and the sets. When it comes to Elton John, over the top is the name of the game, but Guillaume Lord’s sets succeed by providing an eye-catching, but simple backdrop to the glittery costumes. soaring red curtains or a glittering night sky, they’re lush, but leave the scene to be sold by Gavin Larsen’s videos, the costumes and especially the dancing.

Though devoid of anything even resembling body fat, Yukichi Hattori is a slight dancer, and most of the Jubilee Auditorium audience seemed unaware of his electric blue track-suited presence in the aisle until he’d nearly completed the walk to the stage. But that was the last time Hattori went un-noticed. Technically referred to as the “Elton Fan”, Hattori’s character is, if not Elton himself, a window into a wild, inspired, at times troubled and ultimately fulfilled, successful life.

The no-holds-barred, pelvis first choreography starts with a corps of baseball players (a la Bennie and The Jets), and moves on to more Alberta-appropriate cowgirls in I’m Gonna be a Teenage Idol. Coming out of the staid Swan Lake, the dancers get a chance to rediscover body parts that barely got to move on the lake – things like hips and pelvises. And them pelvises don’t just wiggle, they grind and vibrate, oversized codpieces leaving no question as to key body parts.

In a rare episode of balletic female to male cross- dressing, some of the fairer sex are drafted into the codpiece costumes, but this is really a ballet about men in all their sexy, gorgeous, incredible dancing glory. Which is only appropriate given that Elton John’s life has been about his journey as a gay man. In “Love Lies Bleeding”, the memorable men come in dresses, heels and sometimes very little. The reoccurring male corps, The Demonics” (Peter Starr, Davidson Jaconello, Elier Bourzac, David Neal and occasionally Nicolas Pelletier) appear in get ups that range from the aforementioned codpieces to high heeled boots (somewhere a ballerina is relishing her revenge on male balletic feet). And man can the men move; they’re all hips a swivel, feet a flying, sexual energy a swirling.

At their centre is the indefatigable Yukichi Hattori, who doars though the action in a plethora of on stage costume changes masterminded by Andrea Battaggia’s dresser. Though at times a tad clunky, these changes in costume mark the shifts in mood. In the all out Rocket Man, featuring some of Grand Maitre’s best lifts and corps movement, Hattori’s roller skates and red light lit costumes create a scene that seems to fuse motion capture and ‘Starlight Express’. As the ballet moves from the mania of Madman Across the Water (surely taking some inspiration from the Bronze Idol) and Have Mercy on the Criminal, Hattori’s character goes from glitter to a simple pair of flesh colored trunks in the touching male pas de deux to ‘Sixty Years On’. But whatever he’s wearing, Hattori is stunning – his body is a canvas for emotions, expressed in steps from pirouettes to high leaps to motionless tension to tender parterning – a masterpiece of a performance

Despite all the glitz, the ballet really finds it’s emotional core in the more introspective interludes, as in the male pas de deux. The beautifully matched Kelley McKinlay and Elier Bourzac (after an Alberta winter and Elton John, Bourzac must find himself as far as possible from classical, tropical Cuba!), combine for an emotional pas de deux. The movement is sculptural, their bodies wrapping around each other, then moving above the stage as they are hoisted by a wire. Later, Anthony Pina is touching in Cecile & Danceny, his stunning lines and purity of movement yet again making him the one to watch in the company. And near the end, the Elton character is matched with David (a la David Furnish, Elton’s husband) in another pas de deux. Kelley McKinley, as David, had little trouble lifting Hattori, but one wonders whether the pas de deux will take on a different flavor when danced by the evenly matched McKinley and Bourzac.

In “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, a trio of angels finally rescue the (literally) dangling Elton character from the drug and booze addled mania of his life. Of course, only Elton-esque angels would flap to the rescue in gold glitter codpieces, worn with style by Garrett Groat, Davidson Jaconello and Colby Parsons. Elton saved, the ballet launches into some of the most impressive male dancing to yet grace a stage. The Trocks may do the guys in pointe shoe thing, but only Anthony Pina, Mark Wax and Blair Puente (possibly Peter Starr) can rock the stage in miles high stiletto heels. To the strains of ‘Believe’, they bring down the house with nose-knocking high kicks, and the ballets tour de force – a ménage in high heels by, I believe, Peter Wax. Holy high heels!

The evening ends with the toe-tapping, soul lifting ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ finale. It’s a celebration of redemption, success, and outlandishness as only Elton John can do it, and a series of bows all in one.

(As a note - in a fit of probably never to be repeated cultural relevance, the CBC televised a condensed 1-hour version of the ballet. Extensive clips are available on the CBC website for viewing by Canadian audiences, and there are images and text available to all).


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