The National Ballet of Canada is currently presenting an evening of short works entited Celebrating Greta to mark principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson’s twentieth year with the company.
The event includes works choreographed by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Twyla Tharp.
Other Dances, written by Robbins, was my favourite. Robbins was an influential American ballet theatre and musical theatre choreographer known for popular works like West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and The King and I.
Originally choreographed for Barishnikov and Makarova in 1976, Other Dances, set to four mazurkas and a waltz by Chopin, was written late in Robbins’ career at a time when he was focusing predominantly on classical ballet.
Ballet doesn’t have infinite possibilities; it is limited to a strict movement vocabulary. To convey emotion and feeling requires all one’s energy and conviction. That’s even more the case for Other Dances, which demands the dancer create an atmosphere on the stage without plot or background.
In the original, Makarova’s interpretation was slow, spacious, and fluid. The tempo of the music was slower, the performance sensuous or reminiscent. Hodgkinson’s interpretation is noble, marked by vigour and joy. She always seemed to move without effort, as if she had much more in reserve to give.
Hodgkinson always seemed to move without effort, as if she had much more in reserve to give.
The simple backdrop and solo piano accompaniment allowed the audience to focus solely on Hodgkinson as if she were dancing alone. Her partner Zdenek Konvalina was like a mirror reflection, or a shadow. It was so intimate, as though we had walked in on her.
America’s most influential choreographer of the 20th century, George Balanchine put music first, firmly believing in the composer’s pre-emenence. Mozartiana, choreographed by Balanchine to the music of Tchaikovsky, was revised three times. We learned preceding the program that each revision was influenced by a different ballerina-muse and reflected Balanchine’s deepening understanding of the score.
The National Ballet presented Balanchine’s final version of Mozartiana, created in 1981, just two years before his death.
Beginning with a prayer, Mozartiana consists of a Gigue, Minuet, Theme and Variations, and a finale.
Keiichi Hirano’s solo performance during the Gigue was impressive. His jumps transitioned seamlessly into spins. His charisma filled the stage.
However, the ladies in the Minuet lacked cohesiveness or chemistry as a group. Thankfully, the young students of The National Ballet of Canada School danced as one and looked gracious on stage.
Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed to music by Phillip Glass, wrapped up the program. Tharp’s abstract choreography resembled a train of impulsive thoughts. Not quite my cup of tea, but that said, Tina Pereira was a powerhouse on pointe. Pardon the cliche, but she was absolutely crazy! On the other hand, Jiri Jelinek’s general lagging was made more noticeable by the fact that he was the tallest person on stage.
A key production element in Upper Room involves the dancers appearing out of nowhere. To achieve this, half the stage was filled from floor to ceiling with fog. For almost 40 minutes, the whole cast danced in the mist. Anyone who has experience breathing smoke machine effluvia knows how unpleasant it smells.
The nonstop interchange between red pointe shoes and white sneakers had us marvelling at the dancers’ endurance, and may have taxed mine.
“Celebrating Greta” is on at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until June 19. For more information please visit national.ballet.ca.