I hijacked this stunner from the National Ballet’s website. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
On June 15 I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of The National Ballet’s Celebrating Greta, a mixed program featuring George Balanchine’s Mozartiana, Jerome Robbins’s Other Dances, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room.
The week of the 15th through 19th was dedicated to commemorating principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson’s 20 years with the company. The programs were printed with a “Celebrating Greta” banner, and Artistic Director Karen Kain acquired Other Dances as an anniversary present.
Hodgkinson and her partner, principal dancer Zdenek Konvalina, were featured in the performance every night, which is not commonly done — casts are often switched each show.
Other Dances, originally choreographed by Robbins for Russian powerhouses Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, was set to Chopin scores and comprised of four mazurkas and one waltz. And it was, if I may say so, utterly beautiful.
Alternatively playful and romantic, the piece seemed to emphasize equality between the dancers — when performing together, their movements often mirrored each other, and had the amicable quality of long-time friends or lovers who fit each other like a glove; when apart, they shared equal stage time for their solos.
Hodgkinson stole the show — though that was to be expected. Though the choreography was beyond intricate and complicated, she made it look natural, and for the duration of the piece had an almost ethereal quality.
Other Dances was in the middle of a triple bill, and was preceded by George Balanchine’s Mozartiana. Balanchine made popular “neo-classical” dance, so it was no surprise that his piece, inspired by the works of Mozart, had qualities that were both modern and traditional. The intricacy and speed of the footwork made the performance appear decidedly classical, and very technique-focused.
Though Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksandar Antonijevic brought austerity to their roles of the stately court couple, it was balanced out by Keiichi Hirano’s exuberant, youthful character. The three soloists were surrounded by four National ballerinas, and four students from the National Ballet School.
Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room completed the evening, and was a flurry of frenetic motion. Performing in front of a cloud of smoke, the dancers were clad in a mixture of red jumpsuits and black-and-white striped tops and bottoms that looked like loose-fitting pajamas.
The chaotic ballet/contemporary number was characterized by difference; there was never a moment in which all the dancers were entirely synchronized. Tharp was quoted as saying she wanted the performance to “burn the retina,” and, with the incredible variation of movement palettes between dancers, it can be safely said she achieved her goal.
In The Upper Room was a stunning feat of athleticism, and almost completely disregarded the rigidity of technique. Though the dancers were, of course, technically perfect, that was not the point of the piece — the emphasis was on feeling, not thinking, which was abundantly clear in the freeness of the movements of every single performer.
Fascinating was Tharp’s use of odd numbers; there were several partnering sequences throughout the performance, but there was never a perfect ratio of women to men. Tharp also disregarded the romance that usually comes with partnering — the piece was much too turbulent for that.
In a word, the performance was triumphant. As was the entire show.
(This article was printed in The Ryerson Free Press‘s July 2011 issue.)