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Ballet on Emily Dickinson is pleasant, if not poetic

Emily plus New Works

Canadian Pacific Ballet

Choreography by Roberta Taylor

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McPherson Playhouse

On Saturday in Victoria

It's been five years, and plucky Victoria-based Canadian Pacific Ballet is hanging tough. Building audiences for a mixed program is clearly a hard slog, but the small house was very enthusiastic about what was being offered on stage Saturday.

The company bills itself as "Canada's Romantic and Classical Ballet Company," and its newest production, which includes five short pieces and the longer Emily, all choreographed by co-founder Roberta Taylor, certainly fits that bill. The program is toe shoe to the max.

Emily ( A Woman in White) is inspired by the life of enigmatic 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. Company co-founder Graham McMonagle is the off-stage narrator. He begins by giving facts about Dickinson's family that, unfortunately, get bogged down in dates. He also recites the poems that are at the heart of the dance.

Perhaps the company might consider recording McMonagle as a voice-over, because reading live is a dangerous thing; every pause and slip is obvious. But McMonagle possesses a warm voice, and does more than a serviceable job.

Amanda Gray, costumed suitably in white, sits on a settee writing her poems. As inspiration comes to her, the four other dancers (Ashley Evans, Kathleen Mather, Kira Christiansen and Elizabeth Harries), wearing short white tunics, appear from behind the settee and perform solos that evoke each poem.

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E mily is an ambitious work, but while the solos are pretty, they don't seem to be specific to the poems. It's a hard task that Taylor has set for herself, to capture in movement something as ephemeral as Dickinson's words. That said, the interweaving of Emily with her poems does produce attractive patterning.

Taylor's work contains elements of her dance past: In the first half, she five new works echo other choreographers. By Dawn (Christiansen and Ian Szkolak) is a Giselle clone about the loss of a loved one. Grand Pas from "The Seasons" (Evans and McMonagle) is a Russian imperial-style pas de deux.

The ensemble Hold with Both Hands, a ballet about friendship, resembles the whimsical English school of Ashton and MacMillan.

A Short Message is an amusing ensemble peasant dance to polka music, à la Bournonville, led by Szkolak in lederhosen.

On the other hand, there is some originality. Matchgirl, Maggie's Death, is poignant dance theatre, in which Death (McMonagle) and his two angels (Christiansen and Mather) carry Hans Christian Andersen's pitiful heroine (Gray) to her final end.

The sum total of the evening is one of pleasant ballet. Taylor makes her dancers look good, while McMonagle's handmade costumes are superb. Taylor's choice of music is also excellent: Mendelssohn for Emily and Chopin; Finzi, Glazunov, Mozart and (presumably) polka king Walter Ostanek for the short works.

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