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National Ballet’s anti-romantic rebellion – with rose petals

Sonia Rodriguez and Naoya Ebe in Opus 19/The Dreamer.

Bruce Zinger/The National Ballet of Canada

Physical Thinking
National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre
Runs Until
Sunday, June 01, 2014

Choreography by Marco Goecke, Jerome Robbins and William Forsythe

The National Ballet of Canada's spring mixed program bookends a traditional American work with German avant-garde dance, and it works: Artistic director Karen Kain has once again created an intriguing evening of dance. Although Marco Goecke's Spectre de la Rose (2009) and William Forsythe's the second detail (1991) were created 18 years apart, both represent the vision of two bad boys of dance throwing curve balls at the audience. In contrast, Jerome Robbins's Opus19/The Dreamer (1979) seems like the nice kid in the neighbourhood.

Goecke's Spectre is new to the National, and is a radical, even outrageous rethink of a classic. Michel Fokine's original 1911 divertissement for Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky presented a young girl, home from her first ball, dreaming of the spirit of the rose that she wore. The young girl was garbed in a dainty bonnet and long tulle skirt, while Nijinsky wore a now famous costume – a silk body suit decked out with garlands of rose petals. Needless to say, Goecke's young girl (Kathryn Hosier) is in a sleek strapless bustier and body-hugging, long straight skirt. The spirit (Guillaume Côté) sports a smart red jacket and pants.

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Goecke, associate choreographer with Nederlands Dans Theater and current media darling, has doubled the length of the ballet with a second piece of music by Carl Maria von Weber. He's also added six male ghostly figures in red and festooned the stage with rose petals that are blown around by a wind machine.

The hallmark of the choreography is an astonishing and complicated series of lightning-fast arm and hand gestures that make the dancers look like human semaphores on speed. They mostly stand in one spot, but when they do move, it is mechanical or robotic. The lighting is dim which allows them to fade in and out of the darkness. There is very little actual interaction between the spirit and the girl.

Clearly, this piece is Goecke's anti-romantic rebellion. His narcissistic, self-absorbed world is the epitome of selfishness. There is also an angst that underlines the frantic upper body gestures, and a fear that causes a paralysis of movement. Hosier is outnumbered seven to one. Because she is performing the same gestures as the men, this implies either strength or conformity. Is she striving upward or is she downtrodden?

Forsythe's the second detail is still saucy, cheeky and sly. It is dance with attitude, filled with crisp and precise total-body moves that announce an in-your-face world. The 14 dancers execute their own solos within the group, coming together in occasional cold duets. Thom Willems's thumping electronic score reflects an industrial, urban existence in the Frankfurt director's work. The dancers run, walk, sit on chairs and burst into dance, but the whole effect is organized chaos. The emptiness of soul that Forsythe hints at, Goecke takes to the max. (The second detail is the final performance of retiring principal dancer Aleksandar Antonijevic. At the astonishing age of 45, he can still hurl those high kicks up into the rafters. He will be missed.)

Set to Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto, played with gusto by Alexandre Da Costa, Opus 19/The Dreamer stars Naoya Ebe in the male lead searching for something represented by a woman (Sonia Rodriguez). There is also a ghostly chorus of 12 who mirror the mood swings of the principal dancers. It is lyrical, romantic dance. The elegant Ebe is one to watch, while the excellent Rodriguez always gives a wonderful performance.

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