Emerging Arts Critics Programme

Truly Mixed: Genus, Tarantella, Self and Soul and The Concert

By Valeria Nunziato
  • Evan McKie and Tanya Howard in Wayne McGregor’s Genus / Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic
  • Tanya Howard and Evan McKie in Wayne McGregor’s Genus / Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Four disparate works, precisely crafted by four distinguished artists, make one inspiring collection of dance for The National Ballet of Canada’s mixed program. The athleticism paired with the artistry demonstrated on the evening of March 29 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts made this lineup unique from any other The National Ballet offered this season.

The evening opened with Wayne McGregor’s Darwin-inspired Genus, a contemporary ballet that challenges the capabilities of the dancing body. Each leg extension and arm gesture reaches beyond the dancers’ already expansive range, lengthening their bodies to create striking shapes and lines. A flail of a limb or a contortion of an abdomen breaks the hypnotizing synchronization as the dancers –  Jurgita Dronina, Kathryn Hosier, Tanya Howard, Harrison James, Svetlana Lunkina, Evan McKie, Chelsey Meiss, Félix Paquet, Robert Stephen and Donald Thom – morph like the microscopic organisms their costumes (designed by Vicki Mortimer) portray.

The performers chase each other through Joby Talbot and Deru’s music, accenting each sound as they articulate the same phrase of choreography one or two beats behind each other. Genus begins as a solo and accumulates, with each movement acting as a catalyst for the one that follows. At the end, a single dancer moves behind flickers of Darwinian script, and then the number of dancers fiercely multiplies into a crowded stage of breathtaking chaos. A fantastic blur of movement, Genus enveloped the audience in its brilliance.

In direct contrast to the piece it follows, Hershy Kay’s reconstruction of George Balanchine’s Tarantella shifts the abstruse feeling left in the concert hall. David Briskin led his orchestra in a beautifully classical score, initiating this cheerful, yet technically advanced, pas de deux. Principal Dancer Jillian Vanstone and her pas de deux partner, First Soloist Skylar Campbell, create a spectacle while striking tambourines across their bodies amid exciting grand allegro and perfectly executed turning combinations. This inherently technical piece comes to a close as Campbell youthfully chases Vanstone off stage and seals his romantic pursuit with a kiss.

Inspired by Noa Sadka’s novel Talking Parts, National Ballet Choreographic Associate Robert Binet’s Self and Soul transforms words on a page into fluid, contemporary movements. The lightheartedness of Tarantella quickly dissipates with the heavy emotional tone Calley Skalnik and Félix Paquet bring to the stage. Juxtaposing the occasional awkwardness in their partnering, the duo shared a few intimate moments during their performance. The piece finishes with Paquet reaching for Skalnik, echoing the first silhouette in which the roles were reversed and exposing the human need for reliance on others.

Bringing this refreshing evening of dance to a close, Jerome Robbins’ classic parody ballet, The Concert, follows a group of Chopin concert-goers with wild imaginations through a series of comedic vignettes.  The dancers’ commitment to their characterizations proved successful as audience laughter echoed throughout the auditorium. The dancers – Hannah Fischer, Jonathan Renna, Greta Hodgkinson, Skylar Campbell, Lise-Marie Jourdain, Tiffany Mosher and Jaclyn Oakle – faithfully dove into the clever plot, complete with a denounced love affair, an attempted murder and a group of discombobulated ballerinas carried on and off stage in stiff, comical positions. Whether the choreography required dancing classical ballet with umbrellas in hand or frolicking about as butterflies complete with wings attached, the cast displayed the utmost enthusiasm throughout their performance. Its wittiness not to be underestimated, this uplifting work overflows with countless metaphors, only amplifying its cleverness.

Genus, Tarantella, Self and Soul and The Concert: four undeniably distinctive works gathered under the umbrella of a mixed program. The choreographic artistry with which McGregor, Balanchine, Binet and Robbins fashioned their work provides a showcase for the strength and talents of the dancers who perform it. Audience members were offered an array of stimulatingly unique choreography. Yet however different from each other, together they proved the inspiring power and lasting impression of innovative works of art.


The National Ballet of Canada performs Genus, Tarantella, Self and Soul and The Concert from March 29 through April 2 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

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