Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal

April 2, 2009
Les Grand Ballets
Canadiens de Montreal

March 26–28,
April 2–4, 2009

La Place des Arts, Montréal

Reviewed by Emily Macel

Stijn Celis’
The Rite of Spring. Photo by Robert Etcheverry, courtesy Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

It seems that when recreating one of the masterworks of the 20th century, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. After getting the wrong Rite of Spring out of his system in 2008 with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis got it right with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.


What makes this Rite so right is that it doesn’t strip away the original but rather adds to it in a more contemporary fashion. The movements are not Nijinsky’s two-dimensional jumps; instead the dancers leap through squares of light and sweep their limbs through space. At times they look reckless, like they’ve lost control of their arms and legs. But they always reign them in at the last second.


The ballet has seven sections, separated by Ohad Naharin-like blackouts that come unexpectedly and not always along with the music, movement, or apparent storyline.

The costumes, designed by Catherine Voeffray, and the lighting, by Marc Parent, are crucial to the contemporary atmosphere. The women wear white dresses with splashes and slashes of red. Men, dressed in drab pedestrian clothes, act first as partners to the women, then as partners to each other, then with a mob mentality in a male-female power struggle. Patterned with squares of light, the stage looks like a chessboard, the dancers like kings, knights, and pawns. Herds of them move from square to square while a single dancer stands outside the light in isolation.


At one point Celis does something that really speaks to a young, 21st-century audience: He turns the dancers into zombies. As we near the end of the score—its climactic shrills pounding faster and faster—the dancers encroach on the Chosen One with heavy stomps to the beat of the music, tearing at their chests as if their hearts are beating out of control. The Chosen One, performed by the elegant and sincere Vanesa G.R. Montoya, collapses upon herself in a fit of insanity. It’s as riveting as it is unsettling.


The second piece on the bill was Re–, II. Chinese choreographer Shen Wei is a master of making movement look as elegant as a brushstroke of watercolor on canvas, and his homage to Cambodia is just that—peaceful and quiet, yet eerie and exotic.


Dancers appear in red- and blue-streaked grey unitards. When they dance together, always keeping their bodies connected, they create a single moving painted sculpture. The floor and backdrop, stark white at first, quickly fill up with images of the Angkor Wat temples.


In the second part, one dancer enters the stage nude, with whitewashed skin, and poses in a reclined position. She twists in a nearly distorted way. Others follow, filling the stage with naked bodies. They, too, find reclining angles and tilt their heads so far back that they look headless. They are ghosts—not like Celis’ zombies but ethereal, serene, like evaporating images that eventually disappear into the whiteness of the stage.