The big issues in the ballet world these days – certainly my big issues – are the preponderance of dead or victimized women on stage and the dearth of female choreographers having their work produced. So it's more than a little dismaying that the National Ballet's first post #MeToo, post #TimesUp season will present zero women choreographers on the Four Seasons Centre stage. Meanwhile, the new centrepiece ballet, which will open the 2018-19 season, features literature's most canonical female victim, a heroine who becomes so desperate and powerless that she throws herself under a train.
If I'm starting to sound like a broken record with these frustrations, let me limit my incredulity to a few quick questions. When the National Ballet, the Hamburg Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet decided to sink money and resources into a jointly produced modern adaptation of Anna Karenina, choreographed by Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neuemeier, did no one think: Maybe we have enough ballets about women who go crazy and die? Maybe – since we have the opportunity to make something new and we're keen on pushing the idea that ballet is still relevant in 2018 – we shouldn't adapt a story about a woman who commits suicide because she's trapped in a man's world? Maybe our largely female audiences would prefer to see a heroine who isn't defined solely by her role as wife, mother, lover?
Let's focus instead on what's exciting about the season. In the summer, the company will present a mixed program of ballets by William Forsythe called Physical Thinking. The American choreographer, who ran Ballet Frankfurt for 20 years, is known for manipulating the axis of classical technique and experimenting with speed and exaggerated torsion. His work is exacting, meticulous and athletic, and often includes elements of improvisation without exiting the classical domain. The program will include two company premieres, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (1996) and Approximate Sonata (2016), along with the stylish The Second Detail, which Forsythe made for the National Ballet in 1991.
It will also be a treat to see the company perform Balanchine's beautiful and restrained Apollo, which he made for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in 1928. In many ways, Balanchine's earliest ballets are my favourite; there's something quietly riveting about their minimalism and strength. Apollo, which was the choreographer's first major collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky, has an almost-spiritual quality. It will be part of a triple bill that includes the effervescent, late-19th-century Paquita, choreographed by Marius Petipa, and associate choreographer Robert Binet's The Sea Above, The Sky Below, which premiered at the company's Mad Hot Ballet gala in 2017. This part of the winter program will be presented from March 1-3 and again from March 20-2 1. Christopher Wheeldon's box-office hit Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will get the March break slot in between (March 7-17).
The fall season will also see the return of associate choreographer's Guillaume Côté's atmospheric Being and Nothingness from 2015, which will be presented alongside Frederick Ashton's 1964 The Dream, set to a beautiful score by Felix Mendelssohn. The summer season will end with the lighthearted The Merry Widow, a Belle Epoque-feeling, 1975 story ballet choreographed by Australian Ronald Hynd and set to music by Hungarian composer Franz Lehar.
The company will also tour a mixed program of Robert Binet's The Dreamers Ever Leave You, James Kudelkas's The Man in Black and Crystal Pite's Emergence to Hamburg in July of 2018. In October, 2018, they will perform Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla at Toronto's Fall for Dance North at the Sony Centre. In February, 2019, they will bring Apollo, Paz de la Jolla, and The Dream to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Kudelka's 1996 version of The Nutcracker will be back again for the holiday season.