Gasp! "Did you see that?!" "Oh! That was something!" "Well, I've never seen that before!"
This is what I heard from the people seated behind me during DARK MATTERS on Wednesday. The latest work by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite is on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre until March 3 (tomorrow!). While I am an avid fan of dance, I have to admit the second half of the performance left me colder than the first, but all of it was really very cool. The first half is a gorgeously dark and exciting piece about a puppet creation gone awry. Manipulated by five dancers, the approx. 3 ft wooden puppet comes to life in a way his creator couldn't handle and the relationship between the two, warts and all, was riveting. The music, the dance and the lighting, all seamlessly came together to show the highs and gruesome lows of a relationship between parent and child. The wooden puppet was so realistic I half expected it to come out during curtain call.
In short: it was awesome. Extremely creative, pushed the boundaries of how dance is defined and the story went places I couldn't have predicted. And it was funny.
The second half was also beautiful - let's get that straight. The dancers were unbelievable. The lighting was fantastic. But I couldn't figure out the story. Everytime I thought I had it, I didn't; and while I can gaze in awe at the strength and talent of dancers for quite a while without needing to be entertained by a linear story, I did feel frustrated at my lack of knowledge about the purpose of anything at all on stage. I wish I could provide more insight, but I can't.
I CAN tell you that it was also very cool. If you're a fan of dance or even if you like having your brain challenged by theatre, this could be the stuff for you.
LA FILLE MAL GARDEE, on now at the Four Season Centre, is worth it to see the boyancy of Naoya Ebe. His gravity-defying leaps and his precision in landing are jaw dropping (literally, my jaw dropped). In typical National Ballet fashion, the entire cast isn't far behind him. Every dancer on stage excels and their joie de danse (French grammer beware!) is obvious and infectious. Add into this graceful mix, brightly coloured costumes, a pretty set and loads of satin ribbon, and you've got yourselves two hours of happy feet.
And boy do I wish that were enough for me.
LA FILLE reminds me of a Rogers & Hammerstein musical; at the time of creation it was innovative but now...not so much.
The plot, created in 1789, centres around the blissful love between Lise (Jillian Vanstone in her debut in the role) and Colas (Naoya Ebe in his debut in the role) and the antics the two participate in to be together. Lise's mother, the Widow Simone, (played by Kevin D. Bowles - also a debut - typically played by a man to much comic buffonery) has, however, promised Lise's hand to Alain, the oddball son of the wealthy Thomas. Comedy ensues as the couple play simple tricks on the Widow Simone to be together, frolick where they can, while the town revels in their love and in the general merriment of living in the French countryside in springtime.
So like an R&H musical, LA FILLE is fun and toe-tapping... but that doesn't necessarily mean it should continue to be produced. Like some R&H shows, the content in LA FILLE is so antiquated it's now almost offensive. Forget the fact that the heroine Lise only wants to get married and have babies and doesn't do anything but avoid the chores her mother gives her, and forget the fact that her mother's mode of discipline is spanking and slaps in the face (this is actually done on stage), what is the hardest to take in LA FILLE is that the audience is supposed to laugh at the character of Alain. This character is strange; he doesn't subscribe to societal norms and he has bizarre social ticks. The townspeople are borderline nice to him, but also mock him and cast him off and we, as the audience, are supposed to find this funny and laugh at Alain along with everyone else. This is a central idea in LA FILLE and I couldn't accept it. I couldn't suspend my disbelief and laugh at a simpleton character who shows only emotions of love, who doesn't understand social graces and so doesn't comprehend why he's being mocked. It's just not funny, even if it's under the guise of comedy and no I will not loosen up about it.
Some things just don't translate anymore.
But the split-leaps of Naoya Ebe sure do.
DARK MATTERS is on until March 3 (tomorrow!) at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). For tix, visit
canadianstage.com or call: 416-368-3110
LA FILLE MAL GARDEE is on until March 4 (Sunday!) at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.). For tix, visit www.national.ballet.ca or call: 416-345-9595