National Ballet of Canada

June 4, 2010

National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

Toronto, Canada

June 4–13, 2010

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

Sonia Rodriguez and Patrick Lavoie in Pur ti Miro. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy NBC.

This program was strong on Robbins and not so strong on Elo. The company’s rendition of two time-honored Robbins works transported, whereas Jorma Elo’s premiere had some nice touches but didn’t quite add up.

In Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer Brett van Sickle had an appropriately questing look. Bridgett Zehr, as the elusive woman of his dreams, gave a more emotional portrayal than is usual for this role. She entered jagged and jazzy—more like insomnia than sweet dreams—and became very vulnerable. Rather than a figment of his imagination, she was a soul mate.

The company took us through the dramatic rollercoaster of Robbins’ West Side Story Suite. However, they looked more comfortable in the feel-good utopia of “Somewhere” that ends the ballet than the volatile gang scenes of earlier sections. As Tony, Zdenek Konvalina was terrific. He pumped muscle and drive into “Something’s Coming” and still kept the buoyancy of cockeyed hope.

Jorma Elo’s world premiere takes its title, Pur ti Miro, from the last aria of the Monteverdi opera The Coronation of Poppea, which is a love song (“I adore you,” or “I gaze at you”). While the middle section used the actual aria (vocal soloists Kathleen Brett and Teiya Kasahara sang from the pit), and had languid, draped lifts and drags, none of the sections felt like a love duet. True, the ballet opens with Sonia Rodriguez affectionately fixing the hair of royally caped Patrick Lavoie. But most of the partnering is about playfulness rather than love. Hands flicker near the eyes or shove an imaginary crumb into a mouth. A man taps his own head from behind as though his hand belongs to someone else. McGee Maddox stood out for his energetic expansiveness and Elena Lobsanova for her gentle intensity.

The problem is that Elo doesn’t weave these puppet-like moves into the fabric of the choreography as he does in his best work. Still, his ability to subvert expectation is bracing. At one point a man exiting in the dark places his hands on the heads of two other dancers, both of them wind-milling their arms like crazy—a classic vaudeville stunt. A woman enters in a high lift, her hand held by a woman on the ground who, bourréeing backward, leads her to the center. A fish dive suddenly loops back into a backward summersault.

The ballet ended with the loveliest of all these surprises. While the Beethoven music built to a pitch, the 10 dancers got more frenetic. But instead of culminating in a big pose, Lavoie started wheeling Rodriguez, in low attitude close to the floor, around in a circle. She was still revolving in her orbit when the curtain came down. This serene finale robbed us of the much-anticipated final bravado, but in doing so, taught us how much we assume.