BWW Review: THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA TRIPLE BILL at Ottawa's National Arts Centre - Southam Hall
The National Ballet, under the guidance of its artistic director, the legendary Karen Kain, brought Ottawa a treat this week. Three short ballets, each with a vastly different feel, graced the stage of Southam Hall.
First up was the twenty-minute Paz de la Jolla, choreographed by Justin Peck. This modern ballet was originally performed by the New York City Ballet in 2013 and evoked imagery of a California beach in the 1950s, with young, exuberant, men and women prancing around, enjoying a day of fun and sun. A young couple meet at the beach and spend a lovely day getting to know each other and developing a deeper bond. After falling asleep on the beach together, the young woman seems to get up and venture out into the water alone. She gets caught up in waves and the young man awakens and searches frantically for her. At the end, the couple awaken on the beach once more and the audience is left to wonder if it was all just a dream. This ballet is sweetly sentimental but bright, airy and colourful. It set the tone nicely for the evening.
The second performance took a decidedly different direction. Apollo, choreographed by George Balanchine and featuring the music of Igor Stravinsky, premiered in Paris in 1928. A neo-classical style ballet, the plot is that of the young god, Apollo, being instructed by his half-sisters, the three Muses: Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore, representing poetry, mime, and dance and song. The dancing was graceful on an almost bare stage, with the dancers clad in minimalist white costumes, giving the impression that they were themselves pieces of classical Greek architecture. The finale shows Apollo, followed by each Muse, ascending a staircase towards the heavens.
The final ballet, The Dream, was adapted from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and showcases choreography by Frederick Ashton, with music by Felix Mendelssohn. Originally performed in 1964, the staging was the opposite of Apollo: a lavish background and fanciful costuming. A lighthearted comedy, the execution was perfect in every way.
The story follows King Oberon as he plans to spite his Queen, Titania, by applying a love potion that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees upon waking, He then arranges to have her see a rustic when she wakes up. To add to the hilarity, Puck fixes an ass' head to the unfortunate rustic, causing Titania to profess her love to a donkey. Meanwhile, Oberon sees two couples, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena. Lysander and Hermia are perfectly happy lovers, but Helena is desperately in love with Demetrius, who has no use for her. Oberon instructs Puck to apply the same love potion to Demetrius so he can help Helena find her true love, but Puck accidentally puts the love potion in Lysander's eyes instead so that he, too, falls in love with Helena. To fix all the chaos, Oberon creates a fog and all's well that ends well.
The dancing was superb all around, from the company of fairies, Oberon and Titania, each of the lovers, Bottom (the unfortunate rustic who ends up with the head of an ass) and especially, Puck.
Chelsy Meiss, in the role of Hermia, was a delight to watch, particularly when she wakens and finds her love, Lysander, mooning over Helena because of Puck and Oberon's matchmaking attempts gone awry. Hermia's expression of bafflement before she breaks down sobbing, was utterly hilarious.
Incredibly light on his feet, with mile-high jumps, Siphesihle November delighted the audience in his role as the mischievous Puck. November received, far and away, the loudest acclaims during the curtain call. It is no surprise, then, that November will represent the National Ballet of Canada in the competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize during the upcoming The Thirteenth International Competition Prize, taking place on March 23, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
The three separate ballets each evoked a dreamy quality that allowed them to work well as a trio despite their many differences. The National Ballet of Canada is at the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall through Saturday, February 2, 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets, please go to https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/18652.