Review: The National Ballet of Canada at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

It feels appropriate to heap superlatives on the National Ballet of Canada (NBOC) – the striking company took to the stage, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this past weekend, September 23 to 25, with their 60th Anniversary Tour. Featuring a diverse medley of unforgettable repertoire from some of the great, prolific choreographers – William Forsythe, Jerome Robbins, James Kudelka, and Crystal Pite, the NBOC mesmerized the audience with their brilliant blend of artistry and technical precision.


The evening opened with the second detail – it was quintessential Forsythe – fast-paced, intricate, jaw-dropping choreography. Dancers moved in-and-out of perfect unison with sweeping extensions, tight turns, and beautifully articulated footwork, only to turn and walk briskly upstage, taking a seat from among the row of chairs lined across the stage. First premiered back in 1991, the second detail is timeless choreography infused with the infectious energy and powerful athleticism by the NBOC company of dancers.


Robbins’ sophisticated pas de deux Other Dances was performed by Vancouver-native and Principal Dancer Heather Ogden (always a treat to see her perform) and First Soloist Brett van Sickle. It is a graceful, playful classical work, showcasing the polished technique and childlike spirits of both dancers. Performed to four mazurkas and one waltz by Chopin, Other Dances enjoyed live piano accompaniment by soloist Andrei Streliaev. The dancers appeared weightless as they disarmingly flirted with each other and the music.


One of the stand out works, for me, was Kudelka’s The Man in Black – celebrating Johnny Cash. Danced by three men and one woman to six Cash cover songs, the music being the heart of each dance, The Man in Black was at once emotionally honest and completely moving. Devoid of frills, it was the display of intricate patterns, fascinating shapes, and effortless athleticism, which made the piece so absorbing. Its starkness highlighted the genius of the choreography – dancers lifting, turning, and tumbling over each other – all the while remaining a tight knit group and never missing a beat.


The anticipated performance of the evening was the Vancouver premiere of Pite’s otherwordly Emergence. A hauntingly mesmerizing and beautifully crafted work – Pite cleverly captures the swarming frenzy of the insect world, impeccably articulated by the breathtaking assemblage of 38 NBOC dancers. Moving in precise packs – in perfect measures – the dancers draw the audience into their hive as they whisper, barely audible counts, 1,2,3,4,5,6, etc… It is a hypnotic effect that complements the throbbing soundscape (by Owen Belton). The theatre is literally abuzz, the energy palpable, and the audience held captivated by the brilliance that is Pite.


Categories: Musings