Last year the world lost a remarkable poet and musician. Montreal-born Leonard Cohen decks the halls of fame of Rock and Roll, Canadian music and Canadian Songwriters, for his opus of work spanning over sixty years. His folksy sound is especially resonant through his lyrics, which speak to love, loss, religion and political unrest. For their upcoming 2017-2018 seasons, two landmark Montreal dance companies will pay homage to him with a new work created to his music, and a gala danced in his honor. Dance Me, by the Ballets Jazz de Montreal, will premiere in December, and Les Grands Ballets will hold special gala performances, Soirée des Étoiles, the following June under the theme Dance Me to the End of Love, both companies taking their title inspiration from Cohen’s 1984 song.
We have never had so much to celebrate in a single year. 2017 marks important birthdays for Canada and Montreal, 125 and 375 years respectively, and is also the inaugural year of a world-class cultural hub right here in la belle province. Opening on the Place des festivals in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, the Édifice Wilder Espace Danse regroups Quebec’s leading purveyors of dance under one roof. Agora de la danse, Tangente, École de Danse contemporaine de Montréal and Les Grands Ballets will share this 10-story building with the Ministry of Culture and Communications, the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec and the Régie du cinéma. Where there used to be designated events for artistic entities to exchange, there will now be daily encounters between people from every perspective of the dance community. And with its central downtown location, the Wilder building will also open its doors to the public to explore and interact with the arts like never before.
Sometimes it’s all in our perception. I went into Dream Away not expecting much – I know that Stephan Toss’ work isn’t always my cup of tea, but that Les Grands Ballets’ dancers always find a way to move me – whereas my date for the night had very high hopes. In the end, I loved everything she couldn’t stand, and vice versa, and yet we are young women with similar taste! Sometimes you realize mid-dream that you are in fact dreaming, and it wipes away the magic of what you had been experiencing. Sometimes you even wake up, losing that dream world completely. In Dream Away, Stephan Toss captured both these sides of the dream, and where I was fully swept away, my companion was wide awake. Which side will you see?
Spring is always an exciting time. All the big companies reveal their upcoming season, filling us with anticipation for the year to come. This year, the Grands Ballets’ season launch goes beyond the usual excitement of revealing the shows that will fill our cultural calendars for 2016-2017. They have not one, not two, but a whole slew of news and events that really up the ante. Tuesday night at the Theatre Maisonneuve dancers, fans, and media all gathered to finally get the answers to our burning questions: what shows can we look forward to? When will the Wilder building be ready? And, the real nail biter, who will be appointed as the new artistic director?
Oh spring, that great metaphor for new life and new beginnings. With the green buds finally making their appearance on Montreal’s bare trees, the feeling of renaissance is ripe throughout the city, wiping memories of winter from our mind for the next six months or so until the cycle of death and new life starts up again, like it does every year. This cycle and duality, of new life needing death, of spring needing winter, is at the heart of Les Grands Ballets’ newest contemporary work that had its world premiere last Thursday at the Théâtre Maisonneuve. From choreographer Stephan Thoss, it is La jeune fille et la mort (Death and the Maiden).
After a dazzling world premiere in 2012, Les Grands Ballets have brought a tweaked and perfected The Little Prince back to big stage. The fabled story by exiled Frenchman Antoine de St-Exupery has been translated into over 250 languages and dialects since first appearing in print in 1943, but this work, commissioned to Didy Veldman by Les Grands, is its first translation into dance. Whatever took so long for this translation to happen is a mystery. The Little Prince is a story made to look so light on the surface (it is after all a children’s book), but it holds between the lines an incredible depth, much like ballet which relies on the skill and artistry of making the very complex seem effortless. Naturally, ballet and this story are an easy fit, but it couldn’t be a success without the thoughtfulness and dedication of the team behind the production.
Around the world at Christmas time there is one tradition that brings to life the magic of the season, lighting up the imaginations of audiences for over 100 years. The Nutcracker, in its many versions, is a timeless classic adored by young and old. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal have been presenting their Nutcracker with choreography by Fernand Nault since 1964, the longest running show of its kind in Canada, bringing joy and festive spirit to over 200 000 show goers. It is no small feat to put on this production every season, but year after year dancers take on the familiar roles with renewed excitement. The sparkle of The Nutcracker never fades and this year showed no exception.