It’s been 15 years since The National Ballet of Canada performed on the New York City Center stage. Now, under the artistic leadership of Hope Muir, the Company returns with a showstopper program that spotlights the versatility and breadth of its repertoire. Anchored by the US premiere of Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas, this triple bill also features the Company’s newly acquired repertory piece Anima Animus by David Dawson, and Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, a neoclassical work for the full corps de ballet.
One of the world’s leading dance makers, Canada’s Crystal Pite created her award-winning Angels’ Atlas for the National Ballet in 2020, with the world premiere occurring just days before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was one of the last works the National Ballet performed before theaters closed, and the first to mark the Company’s return to the stage in the fall of November 2021. The premiere’s timing added additional layers of emotion and meaning to a work already steeped in images of resilience and solidarity.
In Angels’ Atlas, waves of dancers swell and coalesce against an ethereal wall of light, presenting life as a state of radiant impermanence, a phenomenon made tangible in the vital yet fleeting moment of dance. Pite was inspired by the critic Max Wyman, who once said of dance: “No other art form speaks so directly about the fragile, temporary quality of life, or about the human instinct to transcend those bonds and aim for that perfect moment of self-realization.”
Set designer Jay Gower Taylor worked with lighting designer Tom Visser to create the ever-changing light display, using an entirely analog method of manipulating reflected light. For Pite, the effect is one of “a frontier, a portal, a portrait of the unknown”; on seeing it, she was reminded of the “dizzying thrill” she felt as a child, suddenly aware of her small place within the cosmos.
Joining Angels’ Atlas is the National Ballet’s first acquisition from English choreographer David Dawson: Anima Animus, which he created for San Francisco Ballet in 2018. Anima Animus is a fast-paced work of pure dance that indulges in contrasts and the idea of opposition, most meaningfully Carl Jung’s concept of anima, the female aspect of the male psyche, and animus, the male aspect of the female psyche.
“Within classical ballet there have been traditions that I wanted to question and try to evolve,”Dawson says. “I wanted to create choreography that was less gender biased, with women dancing men’s choreography and men dancing female choreography. In the first and third movements of the ballet, the choreographic language is shared without the limitations of the traditional rules while also creating a counter point to this during the second movement, with the focus on the art of the pas de deux or partnering, and how far in the opposite direction we could go.”
Dawson’s expansive choreography brilliantly evokes Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto No. 1 or Esoconcerto, which is also rich with contrasts.“Bosso’s music looks to the past and the future at the same time,” says Dawson.“ There are moments when I listen and I feel comforted by what I think I know, then it surprises me and becomes very untraditional. This pushed me to create something beautiful but with a sharp edge.”
The Company closes the programme with a ballet that puts nearly the entire ensemble on stage together: Kenneth MacMillan’s sun-drenched Concerto, a beautifully constructed work in three movements that channels the exuberance and variation in Dimitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major.
MacMillan created Concerto for Deutsche Oper Ballet in 1966 in part to encourage the precision and virtuosity of a large corps de ballet. Though it was created in Europe, the ballet retains a unique connection to Canada in the second movement, an elegiac pas de deux inspired by Canadian dancer Lynn Seymour. MacMillan was so moved by the quiet elegance of Seymour’s daily warmup that he included some of her movements in the pas de deux, with her partner standing in for the barre. The pas de deux emerges out of Mac Millan’s long professional relationship with Seymour—for whom he created several roles—and his vision for Concerto as a work that delights in ballet technique.
All in all, The National Ballet of Canada’s return to City Center promises to be an incredible evening. As Artistic Director Hope Muir puts it, “Our program offers an incredible breadth of music and movement vocabularies. I am proud to present these inspired works in New York and, through them, the artistry and creativity that define The National Ballet of Canada today.”
The National Ballet of Canada performs March 30—April 1.