BWW Review: Vespers – A Woven Tapestry of Sound and Movement by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa

BWW Review: Vespers – A Woven Tapestry of Sound and Movement by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa
2017 Vespers - RWB Company and Evelyn Hart - Photo by Stanislav Belyaevsky

Prior to the performance, André Lewis, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's (RWB) Artistic Director and CEO, gave an introductory talk to members of the audience, where he stated that artists are able to express themselves through new interpretations and the deconstruction of classic pieces of music. The RWB's Vespers is set to Claudio Monteverdi's liturgical composition of the same name, published in 1610. Vespers are the traditional evening prayers performed in many churches; however, thanks to James Kudelka's avant-garde choreography, the scenes that unfold in front of the audience are anything but traditional.

In Part I, animals and humans coexist harmoniously in a shared community. The animal species were varied, from the Ram, who appeared to be the leader, to the Bear, Horse, Cardinal, Hawk, Duck, Pig, Porcupine, Fox, and Rabbit. The dancers portraying the animals wore large, exquisitely detailed masks that covered their entire faces, courtesy of Karen Rodd, a sculptor and mold-maker based in Toronto. The animal heads were paired with luxurious waistcoats to complete the look. This brilliant costume design, by Denis Lavoie, gave the animal characters an anthropomorphic feel, especially since almost all of the human characters wore nondescript black clothing. This served to put the animals' characters on equal footing with the humans.

The performers wove in and out in the stage space in a kaleidoscope of movement that was dazzling. The Cardinal (Stephan Azulay) and the Hawk (Tyler Carver) performed sweeping motions with their arms to suggest flight, while the Ram (Yosuke Mino) nodded his head, and the Rabbit (Chenxin Liu) kept her hands held up like paws - resulting in subtle, yet effective, accentuations.

BWW Review: Vespers – A Woven Tapestry of Sound and Movement by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa
Vespers - Evelyn Hart - Photo by Stanislav Belyaevsky

Part 2 takes place "after the Fall", with the animals and humans living separately. The audience is introduced to a new character, the "Everywoman", who - despite her initial fear when confronted with the animals - begins a journey towards renewed inclusiveness between humans and animals. The role of the "Everywoman" was created especially for and performed by Evelyn Hart, the legendary, award-winning, ballerina. Now in her early sixties, the role was, understandably, not as physically demanding as those of the other characters, but instead showed off her lithe form in a series of lifts, as well as her graceful movements across the stage. Ms. Hart's primary dance partner, Dmitri Dovgoselets, was the perfect companion, complementing her every movement. Ms. Hart also danced with many of the animal characters and was frequently partnered with the Horse, performed by Liam Caines, a remarkable dancer who also added an equestrian cantor to his steps.

Monteverdi's magnificent score was performed by the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, accompanied by The National Arts Centre Orchestra.

Although the storyline was hazy, the interaction among the dancers was compelling, especially in the second half under Ms. Hart's guidance. The interpretation was visually arresting and the music accentuated the dancers' movements. At the end of the performance, the audience gave the company a well-deserved standing ovation to show their appreciation.

Vespers is at the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall through Saturday, November 3, 2018. For more information or to buy tickets, please go to

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From This Author Courtney Castelino

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