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DANCE REVIEW: LES GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS DE MONTREAL

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 21 SEPTEMBER 2008 - This year as last, "Les Etés de la danse" was held in the newly renovated Grand Palais, and arriving there, particularly at night with all the lights, was most spectacular. Situated on the Avenue Winston Churchill at an angle to the Champs Elysées and opposite the lovely Petit Palais, with the shining golden Dome of Les Invalides in the distance towering behind the glittering lights of Pont Alexander III beyond, it would be hard to find a more glorious setting.

Built in 1900 for the Universal Fair by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of Eiffel Tower fame, the imposing glass and iron building which rises to a height of 63 meters under the dome, is hosting Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the city of Québec.


Le Grand Palais, Paris
Photo: Yves Boccadoro

Founded by Ludmilla Chiriaeff in 1957 with the aim of establishing a troupe with a distinct Canadian identity, the company has a repertoire encompassing the 19th century classics with landmark works from the 20th century as well as works from contemporary choreographers, but the programme offered in Paris only consisted of works by Kylian, Naharin, and Mauro Bigonzetti as well as by the lesser known Didy Veldman and Stijn Célis. Such a programme, alas, only emphasized the fact that the troupe seems less a coherent whole as a collection of dancers of various styles and degrees of training from such countries as Japan, Poland, Cuba, France, Albania, Spain as well as from various schools throughout the U. S. and Canada. There were no strong personalities and certainly no national identity or coherence despite the fact that it is directed by Gradimir Pankov, a man of experience who was previously the director of Netherlands Dans Theater 2, Finnish National Ballet, Sweden's Cullberg Ballet, and the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Genève, before accepting the post in Montreal in 2000.

Watching one of the daily classes which were open to the public, it was extremely easy to see who were the classically trained dancers and who were not, and while it is certainly no crime to have little or no classical training, it was rather odd to realize this in a company from one of the world's major cities boasting to be "Les Grands Ballets". It gave the audience a preconceived idea of what to expect and many were deeply disappointed, not only by the weak technique, but from a lack of artistry only too apparent in several of the ballets presented. It is not enough to be "innovative" and "original", as stated in the programme.


Didy Veldman: TooT
Photo: Serge Endinian

The first work on programme 2 was TooT, by the Dutch choreographer, Didy Veldman, set to Jazz Suite No 2 by Dmitri Shostakovitch. It's a piece full of humour and self-derision set against a circus background, a work which would have stood a much better chance with a more mature company. As it was, dance rarely took over from rather amateurish gymnastics in spite of two interesting and rather lovely pas de deux which got lost in the mass. A scene with orange plastic water pistols became exasperating rather than funny, and when the dancers began to speak, their commentaries, "I want to fly", "I'm looking at the stars", or "I wish I could forget" just seemed plain silly and very unprofessional.


Stijn Celis: Les Noces
Photo: Roland Lorente

The dancers themselves fared better with the second ballet, Noces, by the Belgian choreographer, Stijn Celis, but in this case, what was more doubtful was the choreography. It's not easy to tamper with Noces , to Stravinsky's powerful score. After the 1923 version by Nijinska, one of the greatest works of the 20th century, it needs a choreographer of great talent to rethink another version, and Celis fell somewhat short. The choreography tended to be repetitive while the twelve couples illustrating the corrosive nature of the institute of marriage were not very convincing despite their athletic performance. The twelve brides in their unflattering costumes seemed to have escaped from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte-Carlo.

However, my eyes kept being drawn to one of the dancers, whose clean technique, high jumps and intense interpretation was remarkable. Upon enquiry after, I discovered that it was Hervé Courtain, whose short stature had seemed to condemn him to stay in the rank of sujet and character roles at the Paris Opéra Ballet. After a short spell with Boston Ballet, this remarkable artist had joined the Canadian troupe in 2004.


Jiri Kylian: Six Dances
Photo: Pascale Simard

The last piece on the programme, Six Dances by Jiri Kylian, created for Netherlands Dans Theater in 1986, was also dominated by an ex-member of the Paris Opéra. Rachel Rufer, quadrille, left the lower ranks of the French company in 1991 to seek her fortune elsewhere before joining the Canadian troupe as Première danseuse in 2000. The level of the evening improved by several notches with the bringing out of a stronger team for the Kylian piece which proved a lighthearted bubble of fun.

Set to a series of six German dances by Mozart, the work by the Czech master was full of humour and fantasy; here at last was a quality of dance one expects at such a festival.*

* No problem with the quality next year. "Les Etés de la danse" will be re-inviting the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater after their triumphal 2006 visit. The Theatre du Chatelet will be hosting the festival.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe and is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.



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