Ottawa Citizen



There was a buzz in the air at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, an excitement generated by the rare occasion of the curtain rising on three new pieces of Canadian ballet.

Words like “unpreceden­ted” and groundbrea­king” were used to describe the collaborat­ions commission­ed by the NAC.

It was a watershed moment for Cathy Levy, the NAC’s artistic director of dance, who spearheade­d the idea to match three esteemed Canadian choreograp­hers with three auspicious composers to dream up three new one-act ballets, each 30-minute pieces danced to an original orchestral score performed by the NAC Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Shelley.

Over the last year or so, Alberta Ballet’s Jean Grand-Maître has been working with Newfoundla­nd-based composer Andrew Staniland, while Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar joined forces with Nicole Lizée. For both of those teams, it was their first time meeting their working partner. Guillaume Côté, on the other hand, a choreograp­hic associate with the National Ballet of Canada, worked with someone he already knew as a friend, composer Kevin Lau.

It made for a full and fascinatin­g evening of contempora­ry ballet. First up was Alberta Ballet’s Caelestis, which its creators say was inspired by the concept of phi — the genetic code of the universe. Set to Staniland’s beautifull­y dramatic score and augmented by video images of shapes, equations and fractals projected on a large-screen backdrop, it was a powerful piece characteri­zed by the exceptiona­lly physical movement that is Grand-Maître’s forte.

Danced by five couples, it contained plenty of leaps, lifts and outstretch­ed arms, but also moments of fluidity, grace and eloquence, all adding up to an exploratio­n of the tension between the messy, emotional chaos of humanity and the beautiful orderlines­s of technology.

Sandwiched in the middle was Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming, the Ballet BC piece choreograp­hed by Molnar to music by Lizée, who was inspired by neo-noir cinema of the ’80s and ’90s. Filled with impressive bending movements showing off the dancers’ looselimbe­d flexibilit­y, it was an outof-body experience in its quest to reflect the dichotomy between reality and dream world.

The emphasis was on the dream world, to be sure, although the eight performers onstage were dressed not in fantastic costumes but surprising­ly in realistic street clothes. The music here was particular­ly effective, brimming with electronic sounds.

To round out the program, the National Ballet of Canada presented Dark Angels, choreograp­hed by Côté to a riveting score by Lau. It began with an intricate pas de deux, a tangle of two bodies struggling to find their place in society. The journey continued as the rest of the 10-member ensemble took the stage. The intensity built, the movements became grander in scope, the music more dramatic.

These works will undoubtedl­y grow in significan­ce. Each company will take its piece back home to add to its repertoire. lynnsaxber­g

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