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PostPosted: Sat Nov 14, 2009 7:01 pm 
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The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, ON
November 13, 2009
“The Sleeping Beauty”

Kissing sleeping princesses is a dicey profession these days - your average 20-30-something healthy prince charming doesn’t qualify for an H1N1 vaccination yet and his trust fund has probably been drained by a Ponzi scheme. Fortunately the Prince and Princess in National Ballet of Canada’s “The Sleeping Beauty” had no such worries, and Nureyev’s opulent production transported the Friday evening audience into a fantasy world far away from flu and financial worries.

When it was debuted in 1972, Nureyev’s “The Sleeping Beauty” was the crown jewel of the NBoC’s repertoire. Choreographically and artistically it remains a sparkling diamond that is a perfect vehicle for the company’s dancers. Nureyev’s artistic vision is more feral, fierce and non-specific fantasy than classic European fairytale, and takes place in a world almost entirely devoid of children. Thus, it’s a more mature rendering of the traditional fairy tale – more ETA Hoffman than Roy C. Disney adults, and very a refreshing change from the overly Disney-esque versions that seem to plague some companies.

Along the way, however, the luster has worn off the productions’ visual appearance. There appears to be a general trend in the ballet world towards the use of increasingly dim lighting, and NBoC is not immune. As with last season’s “Romeo and Juliet”, the lighting for this production left me squinting to see the dancers. The prologue was dimly lit, and the denizens of Act 1 and Act 2 seemed to have minor jaundice. The lighting is credited to David Hersey, but one has to wonder if his designs have been tinkered with in the last 37 years.

It’s a shame because bad lighting doesn’t just make it hard to see the dancers, it ruins the effect of the costumes. The costume palette isn’t particularly vivid to begin with – the bluebird’s stunning blue excepted - and the muddy lighting made it tricky to tell fairy from courtier, courtier from royalty and royalty from fairy. In particular, the king and queen (and thus the ‘baby’ Aurora – it’s rather pivotal that we know we are at a baby shower!!), blended into the scenery. If I remember correctly, royalty in the olden days tended to wear vivid colors because those were the most difficult to dye, and so were a sign of wealth.

The lighting quality certainly picked up in parts of Act 2 and Act 3. However, judging by the glorious photo of Sonia Rodriguez in the Act 3 costume (I believe) gracing the cover of the program, the bodice has far more colour, and the tutu a crisper whiteness than seen in the theatre. The palette is most effective in Act 2 when Prince Florimund is attired in a vivid blue that stands out from his brown-clad huntsmen and the deep red-hued Act 3 (but talk about a feather overdose – the Mayan god headdress on the king is fascinating, but not really fairytale!). So a plea to costume designers and lighting designers – remember that most of your audience is a long way from the stage - don’t skimp on colour and lighting!!

Fortunately, despite the lighting lapses, Nureyev ‘s choreography is a step above most current productions, and the opening night cast was absolutely spectacular. You could have Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté dance in garbage bags and they’d still be mesmerizing. The newly engaged couple are to the roles born - she delicate, fresh faced and steel-toed, he tall, dark, good-looking and blessed with an effortless elegance. Supporting them (literally and figuratively) was a cast of stars and stars to be.

There were a few rough moments for the corps in Act 1 and the garland dance (not a choreographic highlight of this version), but they were quickly forgotten amongst the plethora of fine performances. As amply displayed in her principal fairy variation, Bridgett Zehr is fast becoming one of the company’s prima ballerinas. Though I am not familiar with this production, Zehr seemed to have been saddled with an excessively slow temp by conductor David Briskin. Yet, she danced elegantly onwards, using the extended musical notes to unfurl her long limbs hitting all the musical highlights. Already endowed with a pleasing precision, Zehr’s dancing is coloured with a lovely musicality, and hints of the artistic maturity still to come.

Stepping away from the Disneyesque-evil-witch characterizations, Nureyev’s Carabosse is an older, vengeful woman complete with black bustle skirt. Her retinue is composed of spindly-legged bald beasties right out of a Tim Burton movie, and her evil is spread by a trio of witch-like women who seem to have been inspired by the witches in Hamlet and La Sylphide. In dress and demeanor, she is the foil for the graceful, fairy godmother-like lilac fairy. Both roles were more about character than dance (the lead fairy taking over the solo sometimes danced by the lilac fairy), with Victoria Bertram a shiveringly sinister Carabosse, and Lisa-Marie Jourdain a unflappable Lilac Fairy.

No matter what anyone says, Act 1 is all about the Rose Adagio. We all know that Princess Aurora is about to become a Sleeping Beauty, so the only real suspense is in whether there will be wobbles… or worse. But with Heather Ogden as Aurora, there were no such worries. In this production, where Aurora never really seems like a giddy girl, the Rose Adagio is more about asserting the strength of maturity than transitioning from girl to woman. But in Ogden’s hands (toes) it was supremely impressive. Other than a telltale waggle of the back leg after the second promenade, she was rock solid, displaying control and musical timing. But no Aurora can do the Rose Adagio on her own, thus credit should go to the solicitous partnering of the four cavaliers. The program doesn’t name the exact cast for each night, but at least one of the supportive quartet was Patrick Lavoie.

Act 2 is nicely fleshed out with additional dancing for the prince – one never complains about seeing more of Guillaume Côté. Once free of his thigh-high high-heeled boots (were those ever in fashion for men?!), Côté soared across the stage, his elegantly impressive technique at the forefront. He is perhaps not the highest of jumpers, but is the master of line, stretch and toe point. Every limb is fully-extended, every step fully finished – not a rough edge in sight. There is also attention to character – what character Florimund is given – Côté makes his prince elegant, yet understated and refined so that he stands out from the commoners without being a snob.

While I don’t begrudge more changes to see Ogden and Côte together on stage, it is a bit confusing to have Aurora return for an extended rather un-dreamlike sequence. It gives more coherence to the Prince’s love - he’s not just following a strange fairy to a strange sleeping princess and kissing her without a moment’s hesitation. Yet, it seems like the couple have an entire courtship when she should be asleep in her bed. This oddity is just a quirk, though another reason why the production lends itself to a more mature audience.

The story is all but over by Act 3, so there’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the dance. The jewels Pas de Cinq was ably performed with Piotr Stanczyk in fine form both as a soloist and as a partner. Jillian Vanstone filled in for Bridgett Zehr (previously announced, so likely to allow Zehr to avoid dancing in all three acts). The instrumental soloists went all out to make the score for the Pussycats (Robert Stephen and Klara Houdet) as cat-like as possible, and the pair reacted with a sexy, sly performance. You can help but at laughing at her coyly slapping his roving hand away from her developpe-ing leg.

In the Bluebird pas de deux, I had finally had the pleasure of seeing Keiichi Hirano is a role that truly showed off his prodigious talents. He may not have the most flexible of backs, but there’s no lack of height or stretch in his jumps. There was also a very pleasing sense of pace to his series of brise voles – many bluebirds look they are about to crash land by the time they get across the stage, but Hirano kept up the rhythym the entire time. Sonia Rodriguez as Florina is 37 years young – hard to believe she’s celebrating her 20th year with the company.

There’s little more I can say about Ogden and Côté, but this was truly a wonderful wedding pas de deux. Their off stage partnership has clearly added to their on stage chemistry. They are not the most outwardly emotive of dancers, but their connection comes from an obvious trust that lends itself to a joyous fluidity. It was a soaring way to end the evening and to begin the National Ballet of Canada’s 2009-10 season!


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:59 am 
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I saw the matinee yesterday afternoon (Nov 14) with Jason Reilly and Xiao Nan Yu. They were both fantastic, with the other standouts being Stacey Shiori Minagawa as Princess Florine and Wei Chen as Bluebird.

Quote:
It’s a shame because bad lighting doesn’t just make it hard to see the dancers, it ruins the effect of the costumes.


I was sitting in the rush seats in the second level box by the stage, and I didn't notice poor lighting at all. That's interesting that it was a different story in other parts of the theatre.

There was a little bit of rough/shaky dancing in the variations in act one, which was a surprise to see. Nothing major, but some movements could have been smoother. The solos in the other two acts were much stronger.

I felt like it took a while choreographically for the prince to really get to show his stuff. Jason Reilly was excellent, and it's a shame he won't be coming to the National after all.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 7:57 am 
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Thanks for the detailed review Kate. Perhaps your choice of seating has something to do with the lighting-Not an issue for moi but I was smack dab in the middle of Ring 3. I will post my review when my Muse inspires me. I have another performance to attend on Wednesday. All in all, I was very impressed-Especially when you pause to consider they were off for the entire summer. Too bad Mrs. K can’t assume command of the Ballet of the Blades-The Leafs are off to a very slow start!

Looks like Michael Crabb is firmly ensconced as dance critic for the Toronto Star, as evidenced by this review of Sleeping Beauty.

Paula Citron was wide-awake for this Sleeping Beauty!

John Coulbourn also chimes in….

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:54 am 
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Thanks for the links, Michael. Did anyone see Bridgett's debut?

Also, am I the only one who finds the curtain calls too long at the National? I'm a regular theatre-goer both in Toronto and New York and I've never seen such long curtain calls before. On Saturday there were two group calls with the curtain coming down between them, and then the character actors and soloists had their bows, and then of course the principals. Then the whole group again. This is the point where it should have ended, in my opinion, but the character actors, soloists and principals all came out in turn in front of the curtain, and then there was one more for the whole group. Too much! They should leave us wanting more instead of milking every last drop of applause. Not that I don't want the dancers to get their due, which is well deserved, but I think less would be more in this case.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 10:56 am 
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Hi Keira, we are totally simpatico with curtain calls! I was hoping to catch a 10:40 GO Bus home but had to wait until 11:40 because by the time all the curtain calls came to an end and by the time I got to the subway steps it was 10:35. I would have had to wait no more than a minute for the subway and then make a mad dash to catch the bus from Union station to the bus terminal.

I was going to save this for my review but since Keira brought it up, there are also way, way, way too many pauses for applause in this production. I would almost liken it to begging for applause and then milking it like a starting pitcher pulled for a reliever in the 9th inning. There is a time and place for everything. There were several instances where the audience applauded and the dancer or dancers had not even finished their variation. This Sleeping Beauty needs to be tightened up a bit to bring it in at a reasonable time. With all the pauses for applause, it almost turns Sleeping Beauty into an athletic event and ruins the appeal of getting lost in the story for me. :wink:

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:16 am 
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Michael, I'm glad it's not just me and my family who feel this way about the curtain calls. It just gets painful after a while! We all enjoyed the ballet so much and would prefer it so much more if they left us wanting more insteading of thinking, Are they done yet??

I agree about the applause breaks in this ballet, too. I did notice that there were a ton in this production compared to others I've seen. As you said, there are moments that will make the audience applaud on their own, and there are always natural breaks that will lead to applause. But there were too many breaks where the performers bowed, etc. It definitely interrupts the flow of the story.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:30 am 
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Greetings again...

As to the 10:40 bus - the website did indicate that running time was a good 3 hours, so that would have been pretty much impossible. But annoying to have to wait another hour. At least you have public transport though...

I do think location is a major factor in appreciation (or non-appreciation of the lighting). I've found the lighting better when up in the rings, but from the back of the orchestra - whether on the side or in a nicely centred seat - the lighting is lacking. My guess is that is has to do with having the tiers above you, which probably blocks some of the light angles and adds shadows.

And a good lighting designer should be aware of those differences - there are lots of people in the Four Seasons Centre in seats under the tiers or otherwise with some lighting angles blocked. I'd rather have a bit too much light (unless it's a problem for the dancers), rather than have dancers appear dimly lit from my seat.

As to the curtain calls - opening night did seem rather long, but that was minor compared to what you sometimes get at American Ballet Theatre. I think the applause level/standing ovation on Friday night more than merited curtain calls for the principals, but not for every set of soloists and followed by another full company bow. But that depends on the company, union (or non-union) contracts and the stage manager's decisions. The company may not have a choice - it may no be curtain calls or everyone gets a curtain call. I think curtain calls are an art, and a good stage manager should know how to judge audience reaction, and know when to cut things off. I like NYCB's usual practice - full bows, then 2-3 front-of-curtain bows for principal roles only unless it's a special occasion/performance.

I actually was more bothered by the timings of the start and intermissions during Friday night's performance. Based on experiences in NY and in Europe, my understanding is that the stage manager and front-of-house manager make the call as to when exactly to start the performance (which generally is 3-5 minutes after stated time in order to allow for the inevitable latecomers). However on Friday, there were probably 50-70+ persons in the orchestra section alone who had to be seated during the overture and even as the curtain was rising (big No No!). I think it would have been much nicer for all involved if the curtain had been delayed by 2-3 minutes to allow more people to be seated. I've attended performances where the curtain was delayed briefly to allow for latecomers due to public transport snafus, bad weather etc.

As well, during the intermissions there seemed to be very little notice of the impending re-start and many people were still getting to their seats during the first few moments of dancing. Nor was it made clear in the program that there was a PAUSE after the prologue so some people started to get out of their seats. I do think there is a chime to alert people to return to their seats, but my memory is that it's not terribly audible in some areas of the lobby or if you are in the washrooms.

It would be GREAT - like I've seen for almost all other companies - to have a page in the program which gives the 'layout' of the evening - i.e. Prologue (pause) Act 1 (15 minute intermission) Act 2 (15 minute intermission) Act 3. I didn't see any such info in the program.

They do very helpfully announce the length of intermissions prior to the performance, but if you are late or not listening, you wouldn't realize that the intermissions were shorter than usual and that there was a pause after the prologue. A 15 minute intermission is quite short if you are getting 1000+ people in and out of seats, having nibbles, using the washrooms etc.

The evening felt rushed enough that we were wondering if they were trying to get the performance done by a certain time due to contractual issues.

Unless start times are dictated by union contracts, it might also help to start Friday night performances at 8pm instead of 7:30pm - not only are many people having to work later due to the current economic downturn, but those who are trying to battle traffic into the city or get a bite to eat before the performance often struggle to make 7:30 start times. I really like early start times M-Th, but on Friday it's nice to have a meal before the performance (which helps support the Toronto economy) without feeling pressed for time.

Kate


Last edited by ksneds on Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:38 am 
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Quote:
Unless they are trapped by union contracts, it might also help to start Friday night performances at 8pm instead of 7:30pm.


Hi Kate, I see your pointe but above would not be good for my commute! I too was caught a little off guard for Act I, which I was sure was just a short pause but the dancers for the variation in front of the curtain did not come out right away and the lights went up a little.

In any case, it was a very good Sleeping Beauty.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:46 pm 
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Quote:
However on Friday, there were probably 50-70+ persons in the orchestra section alone who had to be seated during the overture and even as the curtain was rising (big No No!).


Kate, I noticed that the lights dimmed right at 2pm for Saturday's show, which I was not expecting. Also, they made a point of saying latecomers would not be seated when we bought our rush tickets, which they never have before. So I can only assume they're cracking down this season on latecomers.

The new box office hours also contributed to the feeling of being rushed. Since it doesn't open until 12pm now, when buying rush you have an hour less time to get lunch etc. before the show. The box office staff said the changed hours are a result of budget cutbacks, which I do understand, but it did make lunch a rushed affair since I had to go pick up my father as he's not able to walk well and can't wait in line. But c'est la vie.

In regards to the prologue, I didn't get a chance to read my playbill before the lights dimmed since I was parking the car, so I was very confused when the curtain came down for so long! I was thinking it was an awfully short first act, but the pause was quite long.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:42 pm 
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There are about 2 hours and 25 minutes of performance time in Sleeping Beauty. Getting the show in under three hours means short intermissions and starting on time. Waiting a few minutes for those stragglers would cost thousands of dollars in overtime or require trimming the show.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:54 pm 
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I'm well aware of union issues, which is why I was wondering about the reasons behind being so rushed...

Unfortunately it wasn't just a few stragglers - there were enough people who ducked in late that there may something amiss - either people are just plain late, they are having to work later or having trouble getting out of a busy restaurant for a 7:30 show. Or they don't realize that they need to be seated - NOW!!

It may mean needing to trim a few minutes somewhere so that the house manager has a bit more leeway. I do know that house managers in other theatres certainly have a few minutes discretion with start times. Also, in the US, at least some AGMA contracts stipulate a minimum 20 minute intermission, longer for major costume switches, so you couldn't do a ballet like Sleeping Beauty in under 3 hrs. But I think the 'witching hour' for union overtime in NYC tends to be 11pm (for an 8pm start time).

Or it may mean being strict about not seating latecomers - it was really really distracting on Friday night. I've missed the first ballet on a triple bill before and my mum missed an act due to traffic. (Fortunately it was ABT's hideous Carmina Burana, so it was probably a blessing in disguise). Perhaps NBoC could set up a video screen, as other companies do, so that latecomers can see at least see the ballet via video-link until they can be seated.

It is tough to balance such issues when budgets are so tight, but you've got to get bums in seats. If people feel they can't get to the performances or are being really rushed, that may turn them off in the future. Rushed patrons are also less likely to spend money at the bar or gift shop. Which may mean a hard look at union contracts come the next bargaining session - we're all having to make concession to the crappy economic times.

In this case, a bit better 'advertisement' about the program length, the need to really be on time, intermission lengths and pause would have probably made all the difference. Perhaps they could include verbal or written reminders when people get their tickets, and be more pro-active about asking people to be re-seated when the chime goes off at intermission. And provide info on what a pause actually is- I knew what was happening since pauses are par for the course at NYCB and RDB, but they are uncommon at NBoC.

All I want is for the the orchestra (it sucked to have all the disruption during that glorious Tchaikovsky intro) and dancers to have the least disruption and the largest, most enthusiastic audience.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:13 am 
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Keira,

I am so glad that you mentioned the new box office hours for rush tickets. I have a difficult time standing and an extra hour is a huge difference standing in the lobby. I would not have thought to check the times as it has been 11 am for ages. A big thank you. I hope to get down there on Sunday if my health holds up.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:15 am 
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Denise Sum pours out a full glass of prose in her review of Sleeping Beauty!

Quote:
The wedding pas de deux provided a fitting close, signifying the restoration of order and triumph of virtue. Rodriguez and Konvalina are well matched, approximately equal in height when she is en pointe, and stylistically in sync. They have a good rapport and the trust necessary for daring fish dives -- on the last one, Rodriguez’s cheek was mere centimeters from the floor! Again, Konvalina excelled in his variation. Konvalina can do everything. He turns to the left and right with equal aplomb and his soaring jumps end with silent landings. It is refreshing to see proper fifth positions between each and every step.


In regards to all the talk about the timing of intermissions, call me frugal but I refuse to pay the exorbitant prices for champagne. Unless you line up right away, you may find yourself guzzling down your beverage of choice to make it back to your seat in time. Everything in the gift bar is also overpriced-Especially the DVDs, which can all be purchased via Amazon or EBay for less.

As for the recession, it was largely manufactured due to humans not being able to effectively police their own internal financial controls. The economy is much better than a year ago today. If I had more buses to catch home, I couldn’t care less if the ballet runs overtime. At least the National Ballet of Canada dances into overtime; the Toronto Maple Leafs are too tired to skate into OT! :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:28 am 
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Quote:
I am so glad that you mentioned the new box office hours for rush tickets. I have a difficult time standing and an extra hour is a huge difference standing in the lobby. I would not have thought to check the times as it has been 11 am for ages. A big thank you. I hope to get down there on Sunday if my health holds up.


You're very welcome, Millie. We did have to wait an extra hour since we didn't know about the new times, and we weren't the only ones. At least once we were inside everyone agreed to respect the order of arrival and sit on the benches and relax instead of standing in line.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:24 pm 
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Dana Glassman must be the new critic for the National Post, replacing Michael Crabb, as she reviewed Sleeping Beauty.

Quote:
“Bridgett Zehr is a standout as the Principal Fairy. With her long legs and agility, Zehr possesses a certain “wow” quality, which explains why Kain recently promoted her to principal dancer.”


Glassman also compared Nureyev’s Snoozing Beauty to Ballet Olympics, which I concur with 100%, as the story is overwhelmed.

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