National Ballet of Canada

March 4, 2009

National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre

Toronto, Canada

March 4–8, 2009

Reviewed by Michael Crabb


Photo by Cylia von Tiedemann.

Greta Hodgkinson and

Aleksandar Antonijevic in

Crystal Pite’s


to watch them in motion at

In assigning commissions for the National Ballet of Canada’s “Innovation,” a triple bill of all-Canadian premieres, artistic director Karen Kain chose to highlight a younger generation of choreographers: Crystal Pite, 38; Sabrina Matthews, 32; and Peter Quanz, 29. All have choreographed for major international troupes and are adept at mobilizing women on pointe, yet each has a distinct choreographic signature.


In vocabulary and structure, Quanz’s In Colour was the most classical. Bravura steps and athletic lifts were matched by complex diagonal and circling geometrics. Quanz used Anton Lubchenko’s impassioned symphonic score to shape a ballet that, while plotless, was ripe with emotional implication.


Riffing off late film director Derek Jarman’s Chroma: A Book of Colour, Quanz deployed nine soloists in different rainbow colors, offset by and interacting with an 18-member corps of men and women in grey. Each color of Michael Gianfrancesco’s costumes posited a different temperament or situation. James Shee in yellow was an exuberant trickster. Bridgett Zehr and Guillaume Côté—pink and purple—projected fraught love in a poignant central pas de deux. The overt mischievousness of a trio in chartreuse—Krista Dowson, Alexandra Golden, and Alejandra Perez-Gomez—carried an undercurrent of menace. The proceedings generally unfolded at a frenetic pace, driven by Lubchenko’s bombastic music. But as all the colors coalesced in a grand finale, and the heartbroken girl in pink returned in white, a cathartic message of purity and serenity emerged from the refracted tumult.


In her setting of “Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus, RV594,” sung by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with chorus positioned upstage on two high scaffolds, Matthews responded less to the biblical text than to the music’s mix of disquietude and exultation. Pushing five couples to off-balance extremes, her Dextris ended up delivering less than the sum of its parts.


Pite had also been reading—in her case, Steven Johnson’s Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. Her Emergence, a clear audience favorite, offered the thrilling theatrical impact of a 38-member cast in unison or syncopation to an original, electronically processed score—sometimes mood-inducing, other times propulsive—by Canadian Owen Belton. Jay Gower Taylor’s underground, insect-nest set and Linda Chow’s costumes offered a visual parallel to Pite’s theme of social organization and interaction. Pite’s vocabulary included intricate body isolations, hand gestures, and—despite some soaring lifts—a general ground-rootedness that, within its setting, was at times almost spooky. The cast responded to Pite’s unfamiliar movement with compelling gusto.




to w
atch an excerpt from Pite’s Emergence.