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Brian Macdonald's Double Quartet.

Glenna Turnbull

  • Masters' Play Ballet
  • Kelowna Roundhouse Performance Centre
  • In Vancouver on Saturday
  • PAULA CITRON

Ballet Kelowna, under artistic director David LaHay, serves a very precise purpose. It is a six-member lean machine designed to bring quality dance to the British Columbia hinterland (with a pit stop in Vancouver).

LaHay attracts young dancers who want the intense performing experience to hone their craft and after a few years with BK, they move on to bigger fish.

For example, three ex-BK types are now members of Ballet BC.

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LaHay calls this bill of short works Masters' Play. His inspiration was the Olympics, particularly the celebration of Canadian athletes. This prompted him to want to honour Canadian choreographers, so he resurrected dance classics that haven't been seen in decades.

The three historic pieces are Kay Armstrong's Etude (1949), Nesta Toumine's Gymnopédies (1951) and Brian Macdonald's Double Quartet (1978.

Armstrong and Toumine were revered dance teachers in Vancouver and Ottawa, respectively. Both works were designed for their senior students.

Armstrong's piece was performed during the National Ballet of Canada's first season, while Toumine's work is being given its first professional airing.

What is fascinating is how two women creating thousands of miles apart came up with the same neo-classical sensibility. Both Etude, set to Tchaikovsky, and Gymnopédies set to Satie, share similar economical yet elegant movement that reflects the spare simplicity of the scores.

Armstrong was concerned with creating patterns in space, while Toumine was influenced by figures on ancient Greek pottery. Both are eloquent examples of dance as living sculpture, and the young dancers did these works proud.

The company was less successful with Macdonald. The title Double Quartet refers to the music, and the linking together of string quartets by Schubert and Canadian R. Murray Schafer.

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Macdonald created gentle, lyrical movement to the Schubert that portrays a young woman (Tiffany Bilodeau) and her swains (Cai Glover, Eloi Homier and Davin Luce). It could be a Greek pastorale. The gaiety falls apart in Schafer's relentless, edgy modernisms. The playful intertwining motifs of the Schubert portion, become angst-ridden entanglements in Schafer.

The young dancers certainly got through the difficulties of the piece, but only just. They are lacking the experience to make technique in the Schafer section look invisible. Instead we see the hard work that it is.

The remaining two pieces are studies in contrast. Vancouver choreographer Joe Laughlin's Butterfly Affect (2006), his first on pointe, is a delicious whirligig of movement, presumably based on the theory that the gentle flapping of a butterfly's wings may later create a storm somewhere in the world.

Donizetti Dances (2004) is another one of LeHay's attractive classical ballet pieces where he presents showy, virtuosic dance.

Because the dancers have to change costumes, LaHay takes the stage between the pieces to give backgrounders. Immediately after the concert, the dancers introduce themselves and take questions from the audience. It is all very casual and comfortable.

Ballet Kelowna ends its tour in its home city, Apr. 30 and May 1.

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