Fans of the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal expect to see poetry on motion at one of their performances. The sophistication of the artistic direction is part of what makes the troupe famous around the world. But their latest, Transfigured Night, exceeds even these expectations…
The night with the Grands Ballets features two choreographies by Stijn Celis, Orpheus’s Gaze and the titular Transfigured Night. The first half opens on the simplest of sets: a door, standing upright in the middle of an empty stage, with a regular dining chair hanging high from the ceiling. The performance begins, and so does the enchantment.
Set to a piece of music by Anton Webern, the dance tells the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and his young bride, who dies soon after the joy of their union. Suddenly the simple house setting turns into something much more surreal: the doors multiply. Masked creatures appear. Orpheus travels to mythical lands and sways the gods to reanimate his bride, but their condition is this: that he not turn back and look at her as he leaves the Underworld. He cannot help it: he peeks, and loses her again, forever.
The company dances this story with such emotion that the narrative is really secondary to the visceral pathos. The elements of the myth – a musician, a three-headed dog, the gods – are represented in a way that recalls a Bosch painting of the Underworld, nearly Gothic in their otherness. The surreal aspects of the artistic direction serve to emphasizes the incredible movement and emotional journey of the soloist playing Orpheus. The connection between he and his wife is beautifully delicate.
The second piece, Transfigured Night, is also full of beauty, but lacks the tension of the first. It’s composed of a series of pas-de-deux pairing two-dozen dancers into couples, and, occasionally, threesomes, in a group tableau that illustrates the ups and downs of monogamy. Based on a poem by Richard Dehmel about infidelity and set to a fantastic composition by Arnold Shoenberg, Celis’s choreography paints various narratives in a palette that washes over the viewer like a sunny day. The women’s dresses, in a rainbow of evanescent silk, are light and flouncy and transport the viewer away on a rainbow of prettiness.
Transfigured Night by The Grands Ballets Canadiens, May 15-24, 2014
Photo credits: Richard Champagne
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