>mixed bill by royal winnipeg ballet

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 24 jun 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


The oldest of Canada's major ballet companies, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) was first conceived by Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally as the Winnipeg Ballet Club in 1938, which later became fully professional in 1949. The RWB also has its own affiliated school, which was set up in 1970 by then-artistic director Arnold Spohr, leading to higher standards in the company's classical dancing and produced Evelyn Hart, RWB's own home-grown star of international repute. Currently under the artistic direction of André Lewis, the company has since refreshed its already versatile repertory with works by George Balanchine, Jiri Kylián, Twyla Tharp and its resident choreographer, Mark Godden.

With Singapore as one location on the RWB's 2001 Asian Tour, which includes the Philippines, Taiwan, and several parts of China, this marks the first time that the company is touring Asia since their performance in Japan in 1996. After a two-night run of Mark Godden's sold-out 'Dracula', the RWB presented a mixed bill of four works for one night only. Choosing from a line-up of seven pieces, this programme, which differed from city to city, featured a veritable selection of enduring classics and contemporary Canadian choreography.

>'Concerto Barocco' by George Balanchine

First performed in 1941 by the American Ballet Caravan in New York, this persistently bright and sunny piece for eight women, two female soloists and one male lead, has been frequently revived by many ballet companies. Set to Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, it presented, as the late Edwin Denby once wrote, "an infinite variety of energy and repose, a balance of force that expresses in itself a happy movement of spirit."

At the core of every Balanchine creation lies the philosophy that dance is a physical realisation of music, and CONCERTO BAROCCO certainly epitomises this ideal. Every step, from a gentle bow of the head to a graceful flourish of the arms in arabesque, seemed carefully added to match every note in the score. Clad simply in practice clothes with matching white skirts, the dancers began the first movement in symmetrical rows that were constantly broken and reformed as they held hands and gathered into pairs.

Leading the group were Evelyn Hart and Cindy Windsor, who complemented each other well, despite the former looking somewhat frail, yet nobly elegant in her every move. The male lead (Johnny W. Chang), whose sole function was to hoist the female soloist when necessary, appeared in the second movement as a competent support for Hart, who was carried across the stage, as her legs rocked back and forth like a pendulum. When the dancers linked their arms into arches under which they would pass in groups while holding onto each other, this playground-like spectacle contributed to this work's cheery disposition. Despite a slightly shaky start by the RWB, it was the spirited third movement that truly impressed with its vibrant sequences of unison dancing, with all ten women happily hopping on point to the lively score.

>>'At the core of every Balanchine creation lies the philosophy that dance is a physical realisation of music.'

>'Manon Pas De Deux' by Sir Kenneth MacMillan

This pas de deux was taken from MacMillan's three-act ballet 'Manon', one of his most successful works which premiered in 1974 by the Royal Ballet. Based on the eighteenth century French novel about the titular character and her ill-fated love for des Grieux, this duet takes place in the bedroom, where Manon and des Grieux reassure each other of their love.

Taking the role of Manon was Evelyn Hart, this time looking more youthful with a head of brown ringlets that comes with the role, while a pony-tailed Johnny W. Chang partnered her as des Grieux. With long embraces, sustained lifts and a long smooch, this intensely passionate duet between two lovers could not be mistaken for anything else but.

>'Miroirs' ('Mirrors') by Mark Godden

In this much-lauded five-part ballet by RWB's resident choreographer, the dancer's classically extended line is enhanced with a pliant upper body, with intricate detailing in the hands, and feet that are free to sickle and flex. Inspired by the titles of the five poems from Ravel's piano score of the same name, Godden plays with matching and contrasting shapes, which flow from one to the other or stand still in space. First performed in 1995, each part possesses a unique character of its own, but all sharing the same subdued lighting and plain leotards.

In the first section, 'Noctuelles', three men and two women flitted in and out of their curious formations, occasionally pausing to rotate their upper and lower limbs, like night moths adjusting their wings. The couple in the second part, 'Oiseaux Tristes', flexed their arms into bird-like wings, ending their dalliance with the woman perched sideways on her partner's upturned legs. Jesús Corrales gave a fine solo in 'Alborada del Gracioso', whose skirmishes with his quill and scroll evoked some laugher, while his confident turning leaps and multiple tour en l'airs earned some cheers.

Capping it all was 'La Vallée des Cloches', featuring a trio of remarkable chemistry as two men supported one woman through her various manipulations in the air. As in the second part, this section ended with an elaborate lift frozen in mid-air, the woman cradled like a sleeping child between the upturned legs of her male partners. MIROIRS was, in its entirety, a fascinating and satisfying work that served as the perfect showpiece for the RWB's talents.

>'As Above, So Below' by Mark Godden

With one couple flanked by several spotlights onstage, the evening's finale began with a pre-recorded conversation between a man and a woman, with the woman repeatedly replying "no" to the man's every advance until the last moment: "if I ask, are you from the land of 'no'… [pause] 'yes'." And that was how this exploration of the relationship between the sexes started.

This dance for seven couples, which only had its debut this year, tasted very much like a Broadway musical - loud and flashy moves in glitzy costumes. From buttoned-down shirts and full suits for the men, to little dresses and halter-tops for the women, the entire cast was given separate human identities, but seemingly little else. With the exception of a few isolated encounters between several characters, any statement about the age-old tension between the sexes was hidden by passage after passage of broad, sweeping moves and duets in unison.

Thematically disappointing, but otherwise a well-executed work that ended an evening of excellent dancing, and some of the finest Canadian choreography ever to grace the Singaporean stage.