Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rodeo and Allegro Brillante By: Lezah Williamson

Ballet BC, Surrey Arts Centre, Nov. 1/07

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When my friend Jude first asked me to go with her to see Ballet BC dance Rodeo, I kind have thought, hmm - Rodeo and ballet in the same sentence? A sure sign of the apocalypse, perhaps?

Of course, as it turns out, I was just showing off (once again) my cultural ignorance. It turns out that Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo is a very well-known, very established piece; in fact, it premiered in New York way back in 1942. Not only that, but I was already familiar with Aaron Copland's score (and I bet you are, as well, especially if you grew up watching The Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on TV - but there I go, dating myself again...).

The dance itself is very character-driven, and that's no surprise, considering that De Mille is best known for her musical theatre pieces like Brigadoon, Oklahoma!, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Paint Your Wagon. In fact, it felt like, at any moment Lee Marvin was going to ride out on the stage on an invisible horse. I don't think I've ever smiled through a whole ballet before. It was great.

And what about the actual dance, you ask? Well, I think it was masterfully done. Makaila Wallace did a fantastic job conveying all the emotions of the lonely, awkward, love-lorn cowgirl, while the whole cast had me absolutely convinced that they were riding horses (I especially liked it when they got their horses to Whoa!). The bucking broncos were good, too, while the square dance added an element you don't usually see up on the stage at a ballet.

The other piece that was danced last night was Allegro, originally choreographed by George Balanchine and set to music by Tchaikovsky. It was a much more difficult piece for the dancers - the sweat was streaming down one poor guy's face the whole performance. Fortunately for the dancers, that piece only lasted about 25 minutes, and it left me wanting more. Likewise, Rodeo was short, approximately 40 minutes in length.

Both pieces are considered mid-Century modern, with Allegro being an urban piece and Rodeo celebrating the heartland. Both conjured up images of the forties and fifties for me, but in very different ways.

Following the show, there was a Q & A with the dancers; the audience was a little slow to start up, but once they started with the questions, they didn't want to quit. The dancers did a very good job explaining about their company of 18. I found it very interesting to see how much they put into retaining the authenticity of their piece; apparently they flew in an 80 year old man from New York who had worked closely with Agnes De Mille on this ballet way back in the '40s.

It's attention to detail like that that makes Ballet BC stand out for me. They are a small, local company, but they have the ability to do great things - and they work hard to make it happen.

Image from balletbc.com

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