For the second time in her tenure at the helm of the National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain has surrendered her stage and her classically-trained company to some of the most promising dance makers around, challenging them to combine their talents and her dancers to dazzling effect.
And dazzle they do, in a program titled Innovation, currently playing at the Four Seasons Centre -- although, in fairness, the dazz-ability of the four contributing choreographers is neither assured nor consistent.
Jose Navae, for instance, makes an impressive start to his Watershed which opens the program, set to Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, then squanders it by having some of his male dancers appear in tutus -- a gimmick best left to comic ballets, in that it seems to always leave an audience in search of a punch-line.
And while principal dancer Guillaume Cote shifts gears to whip up a tasty, meaty work titled Being and Nothingness (Part 1) for fellow principal, Greta Hodgkinson, setting it to Philip Glass's Metamorphosis, it is, at seven minutes and despite Hodgkinson's flawless work, really little more than a balletic amuse bouche, served up under a single electric light bulb.
The setting -- a huge rock, created by designer Hyemi Shin and lit by James F. Ingalls -- is also memorable in Robert Binet's Unearth -- so much so that it overshadows both Owen Pallett's original composition and a choreographic mission that suggests Binet has bitten off more meaning than he and his highly talented corps can digest, proving in the process that you never quite know what your going to find under a rock.
But happily in what proves to be a long two and a half hour program, Kain saves the best for last, inviting one-time artistic director James Kudelka back into the NBOC's creative fold to create another new work for the company.
In ... black night's bright day... Kudelka continues his exploration of death and grieving in a work set to Pergolesi's valedictory, Stabat Mater, beautifully sung by soprano Dame Emma Kirby and countertenor Daniel Taylor, backed by the NBOC Orchestra, masterfully conducted by David Brisken.
In a series of wonderfully danced vignettes, a young woman (Heather Ogden) remembers the life and grieves the death of a young man (McGee Maddox), surrounded by a community which at first joins her in her grieving, then draws her back into the world of the living. But she is not alone in her grief, as attested by a solo from the indefatigable and always watchable Piotr Stanczyk as a lame young man determined to dance his sorrow and by the loverly duets danced by Cote and guest artist Svetlana Lunkina.
And while the transition from grief to joy is somewhat abrupt here -- leaving the impression that Kudelka has not said everything he has to say on this subject -- both dancers and audience seemed so happy to be reunited with Kudelka in the creative mode that everyone was more than prepared to overlook ... bnbd...'s minor flaws.