Last evening, I was lucky enough to attend the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s premiere of Our Story, a collection of pieces by celebrated Canadian choreographers in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday! As the oldest ballet company in Canada and the longest continually operating company in North America, the RWB is a leading company that balances traditional and classical productions with bold and experimental pieces that push the art form.
Our Story is running November 16 (7:30 pm), November 17 (7:30 pm), and November 19 (2pm) at the RWB Founders Studio at 380 Graham Street, and celebrates notable Canadian choreographers that have played a significant role in the repertoire of the company! Miroirs from Mark Godden and Belong from Norbert Vesak are both being staged, as well as Jacques Lemay’s Le Jazz Hot, Shawn Hounsell’s LED, and Brian Macdonald’s Pas D’Action. Peter Quanz will also be premiering a new piece in the production.
What I love about this particular show is that there is something for everyone; fans of the ballet of any age and generation will find pieces that are more familiar and some that are “newer” to us. It is a wonderful way to celebrate the RWB’s role in Canadian ballet, the company’s choreographic history, and to introduce us to pieces and choreographers that we haven’t experienced. And while the Founders Studio is a smaller venue, I think it was the perfect choice for this production. Being able to celebrate the company and it’s history right at it’s home in such an intimate theatre lent an air of intimacy and a feeling of family that made the show even more enjoyable. Also, for anyone attending the Friday show, Torque Brewing (a local Winnipeg company) is mixing drinks at the bar, and Sunday features a reception with the dancers after the show wraps up!
The show began with the debut of Peter Quanz’s Straight Against the Light I Cross, a co-production between Q-Dance and the RWB (supported by the Winnipeg Arts Council), an emotional and touching piece dedicated to Vincent Warren of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Not only was this an incredibly moving piece, it is technically amazing- the fluidity and continual movement highlight the athleticism and precision behind ballet that can sometimes be shadowed by a story line. Elizabeth Lamont and Liam Caines’ pairing bring the piece to life, and reminds the audience that a true partnership can be entirely in sync with very little physical contact. With a cast of 10 dancers total, this is the largest (casting-wise) piece on the stage, and is a striking way to begin. This is a piece that doesn’t require any previous ballet knowledge to enjoy, and I love that Peter has brought out both the emotion and technique available to ballet dancers!
LED and Le Jazz Hot followed after, each a pas de deux (a piece with only two dancers). LED is a grounded piece that examines the complexities and difficulties of a relationship as two silhouetted and striking figures move together and alone. Accompanied by a single piano, you can hear ragged breaths throughout, emphasising the wrenching nature of human relationships. Jo-Ann Sundermeier and Josh Reynolds create a powerful image together in this complex partnership. Le Jazz Hot is a shorter piece in the show at only 5 minutes but is the perfect blend of ballet and jazz. Performed to the titular song, Sophia Lee and Stephan Azulay are full of the energy that jazz requires but also articulated the subtleties of the piece that ballet is known for. I personally would make it recommended viewing for anyone that claims that ballet doesn’t evolve as an art form!
Following the first intermission, Belong is another pas de deux and is a powerful and moving piece of work from Norbert Vesak. This piece won the Gold Medal for choreography and two major ballet competitions in 1980, and is a fluid and expansive piece that showcases the connection between the two dancers. Chenxin Liu and Dmitri Dovgoselets are completely in tune and executed the piece with complete grace and particularity; it really does feel as though you are watching two pieces of the same whole, which is rarely seen.
Pas D’Action, from Canadian choreographer Brian Macdonald is possibly one of my new favourite pieces, period. A satirical ballet that pokes fun at the story telling and miming so common a century ago in ballet, Elizabeth Lamont and her four supporting men telegraph an amazingly funny story without missing a beat and showcasing their unbelievable skill levels. Tyler Carver, Yue Shi, Ryan Vetter, and Liam Caines completely remain in their rather “vocal” characters while performing quite a few impressive pieces of grande allegro (the jumps and turns that male dancers are so well-known for), and Elizabeth uses her technique to full advantage in playing the slightly ridiculous but entirely entertaining Princess Naissa. My highlight of the piece? Her arabesque that she raises and lowers several times without coming off pointe! This piece is great fun to watch, and left us all laughing out loud (a high feat at the ballet!).
After the second intermission, the show finished up with Miroirs from Mark Godden (of Dracula fame). This is a five part ballet consisting of a pas de cinq (dance of five), two pas de deux, and two pas de trois. Although each dance is it’s own piece, they dovetail together with a particularly nuanced choreography that brings an emphasis to the lines and shapes that dancers make with their bodies and with each other. Yosuke Mino’s performance in ‘Jester’ is both complex and just fun to sit and enjoy, as he performs the character of the jester completely without crossing into the absurd. ‘Bell’ is a striking dance to end the show with, as it heavily features the strength of Alanna McAdie and the support of Josh Reynolds and Stephan Azulay, and the abilities that dancers have to create anything with their bodies.
Although full length ballets are wonderful to watch and allow for a fully developed story line/ focus, shorter pieces can help to focus on a few particular elements to highlight a choreographer’s strengths and talents. This is a fantastic production to highlight the history of the RWB and Canadian choreography, and anyone with any level of familiarity with ballet can enjoy it! Spend a few hours at home with the RWB and experience a peak into their history! The Royal Winnipeg Ballet were so kind to give me a ticket, and invite me to an amazing premiere- a huge thank you to them for the ticket, providing such wonderful photos to use, and for a lovely evening!!
What is your favourite ballet?