CANADA’S ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET
BECKET — The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s 1964 performances at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival were a resounding success, but this week marks the first time the company has returned. And the program’s diversity shows the Canadians are keeping pace with the wide world of dance.
Up-and-coming choreographer Peter Quanz’s 2009 “In Tandem” opens the Royal’s show. To composer Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet,” six dancers — among the strongest in the troupe — move sleekly in the cool vernacular of many of today’s dancemakers who are the metaphoric grandchildren of George Balanchine, the stepchildren of William Forsythe: a flexed hand here, a spiked pointe shoe into the floor there amid thrust pelvises and jutting elbows. Occasionally torsos melt and curve sensually; this softening offers a plaintive contrast to all the supermodel-like posturing. Many moments are pleasant to look at, but there is often a lack of connective tissue, a resonance that might transcend Quanz’s earnest attempts at narrative.
Though it’s only a snippet from a larger piece, Mark Godden’s 2001 “Moonlight Sonata” speaks volumes. Here the mere hint of a story feels quietly devastating, a requiem for a relationship set to Beethoven’s elegiac composition. Though the dance is full of the pas de deux form’s usual fare — overhead lifts, supported turns — the expressive Jo-Ann Sundermeier and Harrison James often seem unable to see each other, reaching past each other, perhaps for the fleeting image of what once was. It’s not easy to pull off pathos in the (usually) mute language of dance — especially with the potentially fussy accents of ballet — but Godden does.
Nor is it easy, I imagine, to choreograph to the roller coaster extravagance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” without succumbing to bombastic excess. But Mauricio Wainrot’s 1998 version is stylish: lovely and playful. Carlos Gallardo’s costumes (the men’s unflattering tavern wear aside) include taffeta-like skirts for both men and women that billow dramatically when the dancers turn or lunge in wide second-position pliés in the piece’s more weighted sections, and silken loungewear for the sweetly insouciant rites of spring scenes. Wainrot does not follow too closely the often-ribald texts of Orff’s cantata, though he does frame his ballet with the composer’s main themes of fate, fortune, and frolic. Sometimes, however, Wainrot wields too much restraint: The dance occasionally shrinks timidly away from the music, or tiptoes haltingly into a dramatic tableau.
It could be that the Pillow stage is not the right venue: This “Burana” seems to want an expansive, even cavernous space. Or the piece’s occasional tepidness could be from the cast’s surprising range of abilities; a few dancers looked hazy and uncertain in technique and projection, which might go unnoticed in a larger space. Oh well: A bounty of charisma and expertise flow in Amanda Green’s lusty and game turn as a tavern queen, Elizabeth Lamont’s sincere joie de vivre, and Sundermeier and Alexander Gamayunov’s unaffected, limpid duet peppered with dashes of daring and carnality. All told — though we only teeter on the exuberant, temporary madness that the music calls for — it’s a pretty fun party.