National Ballet dances to Rolling Stones' music
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 5, 2008 3:46PM EST
TORONTO - With choreography that mimicks Mick Jagger's trademark strut and hand-on-hip swagger, the National Ballet of Canada evokes the spirit of the '60s this weekend with "Rooster," a sexually charged dance set to hits by the Rolling Stones.
Although the show is somewhat unusual for the company, the stylized choreography promises to offer the public an entertaining yet challenging perspective on dance, says Rex Harrington, the National Ballet's renowned artist-in-residence.
"It's all about sex, rock and roll, in a sense," says Harrington, who is coaching the classically trained performers as they try to get their heads -- and feet -- around the modern moves.
"It really is sort of about the '60s -- sort of how the men in the ballet are a bit chauvinistic towards the women and the women are objects."
The sensuous performance features five male and five female dancers, and eight well-known Stones songs: "Little Red Rooster," "Lady Jane," "Not Fade Away," "As Tears Go By," "Paint It Black," "Ruby Tuesday," "Play With Fire" and "Sympathy for the Devil."
Through steps that are more modern jazz than classical ballet, British choreographer Christopher Bruce takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the often humorous posturings of the sexes with a wild, seductive energy.
A recent rehearsal saw male and female performers flirt and flit across the stage, melding the occasional pirouette and leap with kitschy go-go moves reminiscent of an Austin Powers dance sequence.
Principal dancer Aleksandar Antonijevic adopts some of the signature Jagger swagger in his role as the cocky Rooster Man and says the choreography is not as simple as it looks.
"It's not easy," Antonijevic, 38, says of his solo performance, which involves some controlled bobble-head action and exaggerated posturing.
"If you were to tell me to do a straight arabesque or a jete or a jump, a ballet jump, I could do it like that because that's what we train for every day. But this is very different, it's very off balance."
"The first solo is deceptively difficult, not so much physically but really to get the co-ordination of the steps. (Bruce) keeps insisting on the gestures being very precise and very sharp and strong, so it was very hard to get it in our bodies so that it flows, so that it doesn't look like we are trying to do the choreography."
The classically trained Xiao Nan Yu, 30, who portrays the character of Ruby for a solo performance to the song "Ruby Tuesday,'' says she found it odd adopting a more modern style.
"This is very (much) something I never thought I could do," says Yu, who will be barefoot and in a long, flowing ruby-coloured dress for her dance.
"At first I was a bit uncomfortable because everything was not really classical movement. ... You know how a ballet dancer would pull up, stand tall, but with the 'Rooster' piece, everything has to be lower to the ground and (have a) very heavyweight feeling. So that took me a couple of days to get used to. But after you get it, it's fun.''
In keeping with the modern esthetic, dancers will be in street clothes instead of pointe shoes and tutus -- jazz shoes and miniskirts for the women; jackets, ties and slacks for the men.
"Rooster" is already an audience and critical favourite around the world, winning praise since its debut with the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve in 1991.
But any suggestion that the mainstream offering dumbs down the National Ballet's cultural mandate is unfair, says Harrington.
He notes the bill also features Jiri Kylian's requiem dance, "Soldiers' Mass," and "24 Preludes by Chopin,'' a contemporary work by avant-garde Quebec choreographer Marie Chouinard.
Harrington says that artistic director Karen Kain has expressed frustration about seeing empty seats for mixed programs that appear too esoteric for most audiences.
"'Rooster' is just a lot of fun and it's very accessible," says Harrington.
"We really are trying to appeal to a mass audience and we have to in this day and age. Moving into the new opera house, our costs are up 40 per cent so you have to get bums in seats and this is really the ballet to do it.''
Later this summer, the ballet will also present "The Fiddle and the Drum," featuring music and choreography by Joni Mitchell.
"Rooster" appears with "Soldiers' Mass'" and "24 Preludes" starting Saturday at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.