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National Ballet of Canada


by Kate Snedeker

May 28, 2009 -- Four Seasons Centre, Toronto

On Wednesday evening, the National Ballet of Canada bid welcome to “Giselle” and began the process of saying goodbye to the company’s senior ballerina, Chan Hon Goh, who has been with the company for more than two decades and was simply lovely in this the first of her last two Giselles. She has an upper body that is as expressive as they come, and a presence that projects to the farthest seats. Not many ballerinas at this stage in their careers can carry off the role of a young, innocent girl, but Goh is well capable. She's delicate, yet tough, and possessed of exquisite technique. It was a shame though, with many stunning moments, that something in her lower body seemed to be giving her trouble. At one point she seemed to be just barely covering up a limp. However, the overall effect was mesmerizing, a Giselle who came to life in front our eyes.

Zdenek Konvalina partnered Goh like the golden treasure she has become to the NBoC. It's easy to see why he is garnering so many of the opening night leads -- dazzling good looks, elegant lines, clean technique, emotive mime and supportive partnering. His jumps and beats may not be spectacular, but the technique is unfailingly neat and attuned to the music. However, his pirouettes are nothing less than stunning in their speed, centering and tidy endings.

In general, this is a pleasing production, save Giselle's overly large house that makes the stage look crowded. When a company has the level of talent found here, there’s no excuse for sets that don’t give them enough room to show off their dancing. Here, the famous peasant pas de deux becomes a pas de quatre, a choice that shows off more dancers, but is less than satisfying. The inclusion of four dancers seems to crowd the music and the constant switch between dancers kills the flow. Keiichi Hirano was the standout of the quarter; he seems to be dancing from strength to strength this season.

One couldn't help but notice the female corps, particularly during the second act. There was hardly a body (spirit?) out of place in the entire act, the uniformity of the port de bras most pleasing to the eye. If one could find any fault, it was in the noisiness of some of the pointe shoes. Heather Odgen's Myrtha came across as a bit too much "ice maiden" rather than "vengeful ghost" for my tastes, but her dancing was spot on.

As far as Giselles go, the National Ballet of Canada’s production is attractive and elegantly staged. The lone low point is the Willis’ costumes, which are excessively decorated. The glitter sprinkled literally on the long tutus seemed out of place since the Willis are spirits, just barely hanging on to the human realm. In addition, the fringe on the back of Myrtha's sleeves was distracting since it obscured her wings. The choreography and story here are so powerful, why the need for sparkles on what should be elegant, but simply outfitted spirits? It's a time for understatement so the dance can take centerstage.

Despite the costume issues, there was no doubt that this performance of “Giselle” captured the company at its best. It is also a fitting final ballet for Chan Hon Goh, as she passes from the world of performing to the world beyond, whatever that might entail.

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