By ANDREA NEMETZ Entertainment Reporter
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet paid homage to a Canadian legend in The Doorway: Scenes from Leonard Cohen during its performance in Halifax.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet made a triumphant and rapturously received return to Halifax Wednesday night after an absence of six years.
Presenting a mixed-repertoire program at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, the company dazzled with the precision and elegance of its talented dancers in pieces ranging from sophisticated to comic, and from traditional to contemporary, set to classical music and live renditions of Leonard Cohen tunes.
The evening opened with In Tandem, choreographed by RWB alumnus Peter Quanz as a commission for the Guggenheim Museum in New York and set to Steve Reich’s constantly pulsing Double Sextet.
Modern and refined, the dancers evoked images of ladies who lunch, wandering the streets of Paris or Fifth Avenue, accepting as their right the admiration of all those watching.
And there was much to admire from the four women and two men. Every motion was effortless and graceful, a long leg suddenly pointing upward into a vertical split with no apparent exertion, no sound emanating when they leapt and noiselessly landed on the floor, fingers perfectly pointed at the end of perfectly placed arms, classic ballet turns executed with sureness and grace.
At times, the women posed like statues or saucy cigarette girls in an upscale men’s club or evoked enchanting nymphs running through a forest, mystical creatures in a Shakespearean world. Embraces with the men were fleeting, full of promise as yet unfulfilled.
The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, a Canadian premiere of a work by William Forsythe that had its world premiere with the Frankfurt Ballet in 1996, was a classical ballet feast. Described as homage to Petipa and Balanchine, the three women in structured green tutus and two men in red shirts and shorts presented a master class in exquisite pointe work and partnering set to Schubert’s Allegro Vivace.
The Doorway: Scenes from Leonard Cohen was the evening’s only departure from classical ballet. Choreographed by Jorden Morris, the emotionally charged piece was the story of lovers in different stages of relationships told through Cohen’s music and words.
The Letters (sung on tape by Cohen and Jennifer Warnes) showcased a man and a woman desperate for communication, eagerly anticipating missives from lovers, dismayed or elated at their receipt, leaping over chairs or tables or draping themselves miserably over the objects.
Bird on a Wire, sung by Allison Crowe, was a duet in which the couple were achingly and joyously in love, while Sisters of Mercy, also sung by Crowe, showcased the supportive friendship between a group of women.
Since you Asked, a poem from a CD, was a duet for two men, powerful and full of loneliness.
And while the glorious sounds of Crowe’s signature rendition of Hallelujah filled the room, Sophia Lee transfixed the audience with the poignancy of her performance.
The evening wrapped up with the delightful Pas d’Action. Principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier and her four suitors, including New Brunswick native Liam Caines, shone in a priceless parody of the turn-of-the century classic princess ballet, complete with toe shoes, diamond tiara, ruffled tutu and black velvet military uniforms.
The exaggerated “look at me” facial expressions evoked constant laughter, as did the preening and posturing as each of the men tried to curry favour with their frazzled princess and the audience.
But the comic gestures couldn’t hide the impeccable dancing or lovely lines of the dancers, which were evident throughout, making the evening a complete delight.
Allison Crowe will sing the songs of Leonard Cohen during a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Halifax tonight. (Billie Woods photograph)