Friday, 8 June 2012

Caroline vs. "Hamlet," The Ballet

Last night I went with a friend of mine to see the National Ballet of Canada's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Before yesterday, the only ballet I'd ever seen was Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker - albeit almost ever year since I could sit up straight, and by several different companies.  I've also never read Hamlet - of course I knew major themes, characters and quotations, but my knowledge of the details was lacking.  So when my friend got us orchestra level tickets through Dance Break for a mere $30, I was excited to broaden my horizons to include this dramatic tragedy.

Piotr Stanczyk as Hamlet
What really struck me was the use of the orchestra.  The first five or so minutes were completely silent, forcing the audience to focus on the movement of Hamlet, danced last night by Piotr Stanczyk.  I found it very uncomfortable, not in a negative way, but in an intriguing tell-me-more kind of way; it also helped cement the tone of the performance right from the start.  For the duration of the show, when the orchestra wasn't silent, I noticed a lot of brass, percussion and lower strings, which all helped portray the darkness of the story.  There was a lot of digital sound too, almost like feedback, which brought a more modern spin to the sound.

I was also entranced by the choreography and the strength of the dancers.  Other than Hamlet himself, I was very impressed with resident badass Claudius (Keiichi Hirano), beautiful Gertrude (Lise-Marie Jourdain) and an utterly amazing Ophelia (Sonia Rodriguez).  The movement of all the dancers was visually appealing and modern, and a lot of it was very slow.  The dancers made it look easy, but my muscles hurt just thinking about the strength of their abs.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Robert Stephen/Jonathan Renna/Skylar Campbell and Christopher Stalzer/Dylan Tedaldi, respectively) were the comic relief, and though they also proved their athleticism, a lot of their choreography was of the lewd variety - lots of hilarious, over-exaggerated pelvic thrusting.  The interaction with the set was also very well done; just one large, nondescript and static piece was able to portray different locations without pulling focus from the dancers.

Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk as Ophelia and Hamlet
As someone who didn't know the full story of Hamlet, I found myself unable to put many pieces of the first act together, and I became fairly confused by the intermission, when I had to re-read the synopsis.  Act II, however, was much more engaging, starting off with a party at court, which involved lots of dancers and orchestral accompaniment.  Though I did find the second half of the performance easier to follow, because there were constantly so many dancers onstage I wasn't sure where to focus my attention.

All in all, I'm very glad I saw this ballet.  I have a better understanding of the story of Hamlet, and finally have a second ballet under my belt.  The performance was very dark and challenging to the audience, but wonderfully put together and well received.

Hamlet has a short run at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - a mere ten days, of which seven have already passed.  Remaining performances are tonight (June 8) at 7:30pm, Saturday (June 9) at 7:30pm and Sunday (June 10) at 2:00pm.  If you are between the ages of 16 and 29, sign up for Dance Break to get discounted tickets for performances by the National Ballet.

A ballet by Kevin O'Day after William Shakespeare
Choreography: Kevin O'Day
Staged by: Rolando D'Alesio
Music: John King
Set and Costume Design: Tatyana van Walsum
Lighting Design: Mark Stanley
Dramaturgy: Vivien Arnold
Répétiteurs: Lindsay Fischer and Mandy-Jayne Richardson
Conductor: David Briskin

Photographs from the National Ballet of Canada website.

xx, C.

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