What began as a somber evening at the Cairo Opera House ended with giddy jubilation as the Canadian ballet company unexpectedly shifted gears between two pieces that were poles apart stylistically, yet equally intricate technically.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s long-awaited performance featured two strikingly disparate pieces, “Noces and “Cantata; the first created a hauntingly delirious mood while the second explored the array of emotions characterizing relationships between men and women.
The contemporary ballet company, founded in 1957, is led by Artistic Director Gradimir Pankov and is known for its daring and innovative style. Performing around the world, their repertoire includes “Queen of Spades, “Four Seasons and “The Lost Shoe.
Canada’s premiere dance company put on their debut performance in Egypt as part of their Middle East tour, which Executive Director Alain Dancyger described as “a milestone in a history that spans 52 years.
As the lights dimmed and curtains rose, male dancers crept one after the other across the stage in tune with eerie instrumentals. Dressed in tuxedos, faces painted white and drawn with solemn expressions, the dancers moved in slow, zombie-like steps.
Although their sullen demeanor was more befitting of a funeral, “Noces, French for wedding, is actually just that: a wedding ceremony – albeit a frighteningly morbid one.
Choreographed by Stijn Celis and set to Igor Stravinsky’s riveting 1923 score, “Noces shows a startlingly distressing, intensely expressionistic form of celebration. One of the company’s most popular pieces, the dance is laden with grief, which was poignantly reflected in the dancer’s limp, laborious movements.
At the Balkan peasant wedding, set in what looked like a barn, the male dancers languorously moved a few scattered wooden benches into two parallel rows at opposite ends of the stage. Then the group of female dancers made their entrance, dressed in ragged bridal gowns, and began violently swaying their hips as if to attract their partners’ attention.
The dancers at times marched rhythmically across the stage and at others clashed forcefully in groups. Repetitive steps were used to convey the monotony that comes with uniformity as the dancers’ tamely fell in line with one another. That, however, would quickly give way to erratic arrangements and unpredictable choreography that left me, and surely others in the audience, with one raised eyebrow, not sure what to make of it.
The dance itself did not leave one solid impression on viewers, but that did not detract from the obvious virtuosity of the dancers or the sophistication of the choreography. And that was perhaps what was most enjoyable, the mastery with which the dancers, music and lighting worked together to display such vividly melancholic emotions.
“Cantata, the second piece performed by the company, had a completely different feel and it took a while for the audience to break away from the mood set by the first half of the night. Brighter lighting, colorful costumes, and more lively music helped transform the stage for the energetic dancers.
Radiating with spirit and passion, “Cantata, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, is set to traditional music from southern Italy performed live by the boisterous singers of the group Assurd.
From seduction to jealousy, passion to bickering, the main strength of “Cantata lies in the intricacy of emotions conveyed through the different movements. The dancers displayed a natural, wild type of beauty as they translated the multiple facets that shape relations between men and women into song and dance.
The dancers engaged in lighthearted fights, moved with each other in an almost animalistic manner, and flailed their arms wildly as they rushed across the stage.
By the end of this piece, they were literally bursting with energy and dancing excitedly, which was a much-needed shift from the first half and an animated way to end the night.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal will perform at the Cairo Opera House’s Main Hall on June 11 and 12 at 9 pm.