Monday, March 24, 2014

Dance, Dance Evolution: EUGENE ONEGIN at The National Ballet & EUNOIA at WorldStage

I saw two very  different nights of dance this past weekend:  EUGENE ONEGIN, performed by THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA at the Four Seasons Centre for The Performing Arts on Friday and EUNIOA by FUJIWARA DANCE INVENTIONS at WorldStage Theatre Festival in the EnWave Theatre at Harbourfront on Saturday night.

I've seen the opera based on the poem by Alexander Puskin a few times.  It's a sentimental favourite as it was the first opera I ever saw performed live. I knew the ballet was performed using a different score than the opera, although still a score of music by Tchaikovsky.

Like Tatiana in Act III,  I'm now much older than I was when my relationship with ONEGIN began. It has lost none of its power but now seems much less romantic to me and more tragic.

In Act I, Tatiana is a young, romantic girl, reading novels.  What she knows of love and the world outside her country home comes from books.  Her sister Olga, danced by a charming and vivacious Jillian Vanstone  is engaged to a poet, Lensky danced by Naoya Ebe in a very promising debut.  Lensky brings home a friend a sophisticated, urbane and trouble-making Onegin.

Onegin was wonderfully performed by Guillaume Cote on Friday night and he was marvelously matched by a spectacularly good Greta Hodgkinson as Tatiana.  Both performances displayed stunningly good marriages of technique and emotion.

We all know someone like Onegin.  He has a rich dad, he's a bit of a dandy, he's spoiled and too handsome for his own good.  He loves sensation but is too shallow for complex emotion. He causes trouble because he can't stand not being the centre of attention and a hurricane with him at the vortex is a good way to hold the room. He trifles with girls' affections because he can.

He pays attention to Tatiana and Tatiana mistakes their shared interests in a larger world she's only experienced in books, for love.  She throws herself at him the night before her birthday, writing him an impassioned letter.

Onegin not only spurns her, he flirts with her sister Olga shamelessly at Tatiana's birthday. He is bored at her party and rude to her widowed mother's guests, who are unaffected country people.

Lensky is so affronted by his friend's behaviour that he challenges Onegin to a duel.  The girls beg Onegin to call it off.  Lensky is killed and both Olga and Tatiana are left heartbroken.  Onegin flees abroad.

Tatiana grows up, marries Prince Gremin, an older, distant cousin (elegantly executed by Etienne Lavinge) and lives happily in his palace with a man with whom she shares respect and love.

Many years later, Onegin returns from his exile abroad.  The Prince receives him.  Onegin is astonished to find Tatiana has become a beautiful and powerful woman.  Finally overcome with sorrow and remorse, he declares his love to Tatiana in an impassioned letter and impatiently presses her to reciprocate.  It is far too late.  The grown Tatiana tells Onegin the truth:  she loves him but she knows that love will only bring her misery.  She sends him away, he goes and when he does she weeps painfully, fully and freely for everything they both lost.

The orchestra, chorus and design were as good as the principals, supporting and enhancing the story.

I loved the restrained palette of the design, especially the way the colors of the costumes were used to underscore the mood and emotions of the characters wearing them. Tatiana wears a white dress for her birthday and a brown one, sombre and autumnal, the day she sends Onegin packing.

The story in the beautiful poem was brought fully to life without a word being spoken.  It is the great power of dance to be able to convey with the body, all the emotions underlying what is never said and felt by us all.

When Tatiana cried, so did I.  Bravo to the National Ballet for a beautiful and moving performing.

Then Saturday night, I headed off to the Enwave Theatre for EUNOIA.

EUNOIA is a stage adaptation of a "univocal lipogram" (not univoweled?). Whatever: the well-known piece of literary cleverness by Governor General award-winning poet and language manipulator Christian Bok received a spirited and very charming stage production this weekend as part of WorldStage at Harbourfront.

The program contains very interesting notes from creator/choreographer Denise Fujiwara about her meticulous process with the dancers and designers. The result of the four-year collaboration was arch, delicate, droll and endearing.

I loved video designer Justin Stephenson's evocative manipulations and deconstructions of the text in projections.

The colour choices of costume designer Andjelija Djuric amplified the emotional tone of the five sections: A/E/I/O/U.

The dancers were some of the most highly regarded contemporary dance artists in the country: Sylvie Bouchard, Claudia Moore, Lucy Rupert, Miko Sobriera, Rebecca Hope Terry and Gerry Trentham. From the opening game of hang-man, they engaged the audience with ease and charm.

The piece required they speak a dense and difficult text while dancing, not an easy task.  Dancers are not actors.  They do not have the vocal muscularity and flexibility of those who speak for a living.  Their voices required the amplification of a hand mike.

I loved all of their physical performances.  I felt they did their best with the text which is not their metier. They brought great elegance to the awkward task of working with a hand mike during a dance performance.  Phil Strong, sound designer and composer and the technical staff of the theatre controlled the levels of music and other sounds with skill and restraint.

The audience gave EUNOIA a loud and spontaneous standing ovation.  It was well deserved by Denise and her cast and design team for executing a complex, protean task with sophistication, beauty and grace.

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