Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
RWB season-ender has a light touch
By: Holly Harris
05/11/2012 1:00 AM
Bruce Monk photo - Tristan Dobrowney and Amanda Green sparkle in Luminous.
After a year-long, rich bounty of story ballets, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet returned to what it has always done best: offering an eclectic program of mixed repertoire with something for every ballet devotee. The season-closer Pure Ballet, featuring five contemporary works -- including three RWB premières -- opened Wednesday for a five-show run that ends this weekend.
The company première of Peter Quanz's Luminous, originally commissioned by the Hong Kong Ballet in 2010, has been well worth the wait. Inspired by a quote by author Michael Ondaatje, the gorgeous, moonlight-soaked ballet exploring romantic relationships at different stages of life unfolds as a cyclical series of pas de deux, set to a recording of Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich's sweeping Affairs of the Heart.
Bruce Monk photo - Dancers perform the Sisters of Mercy vignette in RWB's world premiere of The Doorway: Scenes From Leonard Cohen.
The mature, well-crafted work is filled with potent imagery: perhaps, greatest is seeing the eight dancers: Amanda Green, Jo-Ann Sundermeier, Emily Grizzell, Sophia Lee, Eric Nipp, Yosuke Mino, Tristan Dobrowney and Harrison James (with alternating casts) teetering as though on a precipitous edge that captures the vulnerability of falling in love. This metaphor runs likes a leitmotif throughout the 23-minute piece, culminating in Green's perilously falling to the floor caught only at the last split second by Dobrowney. Metallic, skin-tight unitards by costume designer Anne Armit add further luster, reflecting designer Robert Mravnik's streaming shafts of light. Luminous is quickly becoming a signature piece for the 32-year old choreographer, earning him the first of several standing ovations for the night.
The eagerly anticipated world première of The Doorway: Scenes from Leonard Cohen, choreographed by Jorden Morris, is inspired by the complex mind and soulful heart of Canada's beloved bard. Structured as five vignettes, each section (other than a wholly spoken text in one) begins with a recorded voiceover excerpted from actual Cohen interviews, as he speaks about love and poetry, God and his own imagined, "curious, magical universe." The five parts, lit by Hugh Conacher with costumes by Armit, reveal their own unique stories underscored by a cover from Cohen's emblematic tower of song.
The atmospheric, 20-minute piece holds promise, despite feeling somewhat like a work-in-progress. It will, in fact, evolve into a longer future production. Some sections resonate more than others, such as the spine-tingling Hallelujah performed by rising star dancer Lee with belted-out live vocals by British Columbia-born singer/pianist Allison Crowe, and Mino and James' rugged duet set to Cohen's own recitation of Since You Asked.
Still, others felt disconnected; however, this might arguably come with the territory when dealing with the songwriter's postmodern ethos of broken love and solitude. Bird on the Wire, despite the warm vocals of Winnipeg's Keith and Renée, would have become more strongly cohesive had its two dancers, Sarah Davey and James, interacted with the onstage four-piece band. Or if Mino and Sundermeier could have established a stronger connection during opening vignette The Letters.
Artistic licence, of course, is always the purview of the creator. But not hearing Cohen's gravelly, iconic voice -- save for the latter piece sung with Jennifer Warnes, and of course, the interviews -- just felt strangely wrong.
At the end of (almost) every season, the company bids adieu to retiring dancers. This year, longtime dancers Carrie Broda and Grizzell are taking their final bows.
The statuesque Broda's deeply felt performance of Oscar Araiz' pas de deux Adagietto, performed with real-life partner Alexander Gamayunov, became as much a personal love letter to her husband as to her cherished ballet world. By contrast, Mino's witty duet Rivalry/Revelry, choreographed for Grizzell, featured the pair in a dynamic whirl of leaps and pirouettes that captured the spirit and charm of this charismatic dancer. Both artists will be sorely missed.
The nearly two-and-a-half-hour program (including intermission) was rounded out with Argentine choreographer Mauricio Wainrot's Carmina Burana, which never seems to lose its power. Performed to a recording of Carl Orff's iconic score, the crowd-pleasing, high-energy ensemble work, last seen here in 2008, ended the 72-year-old company's season with a ritualistic bang.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Centennial Concert Hall
Four stars out of five
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2012 D4