NIJINSKY by courageous Canadians in Paris
Nijinsky and Diaghilev:
Famous homosexual love affair
shown onstage in Paris
by courageous Canadians.
By Henning Høholt.
PARIS/FRANCE: After my first review, written quickly on a deadline after the beautiful October 3rd premiere, I wish to return to this dazzling production presented by the courageous Canadians in Paris and go deeper into memorable factors that stayed with me over the last week of performances.
Karen Kain, Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, finally presented, for the first time in 45 years, the growing Canadian company in Paris. The TrandscenDanses festival at the Theatre des Champs Elysees has presented work as exciting as Alexander Ekman’s A Swan Lake with den Norske Opera Ballett recently and an Jiri Kylian evening earlier, so John Neumeier’s ballet NIJINSKY is a perfect choice for the Canadians to present because of the challenging choreography that highlights the improving company quality. A few dancers were exceptional and brought the company level to a new standard than it is known for.
The ballet is a feast for the eyes but most the memorable component for me is how Neumeier tells about the intense love affair between the sprightly dancer: Vaclav Nijinsky – (Guillaume Coté) and his powerful mentor Serge Diaghilev – (Evan McKie.) These two male dancers were at the pinnacle of a fantastic performance that has left me thinking a long time afterwards about about one of the 20th Century’s famous homosexual relationships and how it was presented onstage by a company from a country with courageous people and a courageous Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
John Neumeier’s casting of these two gentlemen (McKie and Coté) and the magic they created together was the talk of many in Paris at the end of the ballet. Neumeier’s understanding of this difficult relationship weaves through more hysteric parts of the real story of Nijinsky and is for me the backbone of the whole balletic piece and the main reason why this company enjoyed great success during this week in France.
The character responsible for coming between Diaghilev and Nijinsky is Romola Nijinsky – (Heather Ogden) and also deserves a mention for her important part in the play. The character finds herself in between the two men, and marries Nijinsky, who appears too weak to resist the pressure from her to live a new life with her. Perhaps he only loves that she loves him and his stardom. – at least that is how it is presented, seen with my eyes, at this actual ballet performance in Paris.
But the relationship between Nijinsky and great Diaghilev is one of the most frequently discussed Gay love affairs of the last century and it is important and courageous that certain ballet companies are able to show this kind of work during these times: 2017. Some companies do not present this kind of repertoire but the exciting companies do.
The National Ballet of Canada is, as far as I know, the first company outside of Hamburg, who got permission by Mr. Neumeier to reproduce this ballet. (The Australian Ballet has performed it only very recently.) With this very good, large, youthful company and especially a couple of it’s most excellent Etoiles, Nijinsky is a great success for the company.
At the premiere evening on October 3rd. The titel role was danced well with nice energy by Guillaume Coté.
Unfortunately there was not the same building up of energy as the two other youthful casts of Vaslav perhaps, but the level was still quite high and shows why Coté is known among Canadian fans as one of the sturdy consistent male dancers that, to my knowledge, have always been in favor in that particular country over that last five decades.
Nijinsky’s genius mentor and lover, Diaghilev, was danced by the megastar, Evan McKie, who is a totally different breed of artist and also danced an entirely different role, Petrushka, on other nights. McKie happens to be Canadian but grew up in both Toronto and Stuttgart Ballet under mentor, Canadian Reid Anderson.
Despite McKie’s astonishing amount of celebrated work in the ballet world from Paris until Moscow, Ballet fans say that he was not at all celebrated in his home of Canada for some strange reason until he returned to take care of a serious illness in his family and take care of some personal issues at the same time as suggesting developing collaboration with another Candian superstar, Karen Kain.
Now, with tours to Paris, Washington D.C. and New York, fate prevails and Evan McKie is proving to be an absolute (and accidental) hometown hero for Candian team-mates. Kain was luckily working very publicly on the quality level of the company in their hometown Toronto and cleverly wouldn’t have overlooked how much of a sensation Evan Mckie has become in Europe, Asia and New York over the last decade. She, like the most successful directors, is definitely aware of how important it is for each country to celebrate it’s own treasures to inspire it’s future.
Yes, this evening and those that followed from October 3rd til 8th created a week of very high niveau partly because of Coté’s eagerness to sustain energy in this massive role and many attempts to impress the Paris fashionable audience that don’t know him and largely because of McKie’s unlimited magnetism for this exact kind of audience and his focus over every detail like an eagle.
When Coté drifted into any essence of self-indulgent acting, McKie pulled him forward into a more natural moment and made it seem exciting and believeable for both of them and for all of us. This was nice to watch and I think these two are made to dance together. The two created chemistry that let us really see the pure naked truth in Neumeier’s choreographic genius. Coté has a very rural boy charm though he tended to focus largely on himself when others needed him. Then there was McKie who displayes a more polarizing focus on everyone and everything around him with skills and intensity that transform each scene into theatre gold.
Exciting to watch was when Coté was pulling energy from others towards himself and McKie was emitting energy from himself and both thankfully met in the middle like magnets. Both acted their characters very well and are delightfully good looking but their approaches as dancers highlighted how diffrent they might be as human men.
I liked seeing the combination. Not since Manuel Legris and Laurent Hilaire have I remembered seeing such nice chemistry between team-mates onstage. McKie’s perfectionism, range of movement styles and natural control over the whole house reminded me of legendary Legris and Cote’s constant attempts to impress with brutish macho force reminded me of the charm of Hilaire. Both dancers bring so much of themselves to the stage and to this company.
It must be mentioned, Karen Kain’s was a Canadian Prima Ballerina who performed in Paris during her career and is still rememebred by many for her life as a top Ballerina. Now her success has grown even greater after 10 years of directing the National Ballet in Toronto.
Very notably, Kain has been able to attract Canada´s most highly regarded ballet dancer, Evan McKie to come help create development in their growing country and has also been able to attract Canada’s most highly respected choreographer, Crystal Pite to create work.
Of course, there are other Canadians who are talented and have worked with Kain at her company and I do not mean to overlook this however McKie and Pite have become, without a doubt, the most respected Candians in the international dance world and Kain has given them both opportunities and given Toronto chances to connect with their work.
Kain has also been blessed with new ballerinas for her company, giving opportunites to the refined Bolshoi ingenue Svetlana Lunina (who was looking for a new life in Canada) and the talented Ballerina Jurgita Dronina. Kain is also developing the youngest dancers to try to improve and show themselves and also giving older sturdy Canadian generations like Guillaume Cóté and Heather Ogden lifetime chances to come to Europe and perform for critical audiences.
Kain is giving all the artists unforgetable chances to work with choreographers like John Neumeier, Christopher Weeldon, Wayne McGregor and Alexei Ratmansky and the new level of dancers and their deep reach into the choreography directly benefits Kain’s successful plan to vitalize the company. Not since Rudolf Nureyev’s time directing of Paris Opera Ballet has there been such an exciting equal benefit between star director and a special few star dancers who raise the company standard and global appeal which makes the choreographers able to have more freedom in their work.
I should hope that during the coming years touring plans, we would get the posibility to see Karen Kain’s company in Paris again with these dancers and perhaps also see them in Scandinavia where great design and world-renowned artists are welcome.
Since I last saw the company a few years ago it is the dancers who have had the greatest improvement in quality and this says very much about Kain’s taste and new additions to the company. There were still some dancers who lacked refinement and artistry which I had remembered from last times seeing the company but there were, thankfully and because of Karen Kain’s leadership, some dancers who I will mention who brought this tour to a level of actualized success.
Evan McKie is time and time again one of the most marvelous dancers in the world today. His presence suggests that he worships the choreography he touches and is in love with all of his fellow dancers and their development on stage. He causes partners to shine in new ways while maintaining a sense of control and seems to work very hard to make the most of each moment.
His dancing is meticulous but also quite wild and powerful at the same time. His international experience as constantly requested star with the worlds top companies like Bolshoi, Marinsky, Paris, Stuttgart, Tokyo have given him competitive edge that simply no other dancer has but that is ironically not what allures me to him on the stage. What strikes me about him is his unbelieavable comittment to each detail and portrayal. He is naturally gifted but I can also see all of the major work where he goes beyond some of his talented friends.
Unfortunately mistakes can also happen to the very best artists in the world and McKie suffered a wardrobe malfunction in one of the weekend performances that left him with his trousers fly-zipper undone for about 10 minutes of dancing. The audience around me were quite tantalized during this event and were whispering trying to catch a glimpse but I was so moved by the physicality of McKie that his artistry trandscended the close-call exposure of his manlihood. He didn’t seem to care about the broken costume and became even more intensely dedicated to the ballet which became satisfyingly more enticing than the idea of seeing any peeping bulge of flesh.
Just like the country of Canada, McKie appears to be elegently French (in his detailed training), very English (in dramatic skills) and also displays exciting foreign exotic influences in many movements as well. These influences likely come from his time in Germany and Russia. He reminds me a little bit of Eddie Redmayne or Benedict Cumberbatch in his approach and body language. In McKie, we are thrilled to witness a dancer who represents why Canada is such a popular country now; McKie is not only Canada’s most respected ballet dancer today, he is also the mix of focused strength and modern fluidity that makes Canada finally so exciting to the world.
Coté is also exciting and he did remarkably well considering the incredible casts who dance the lead role at the Hamburg Ballet. He did a good job, relying on effective jumps to try not to be upstaged by magnetic McKie. This was interesting to watch because he seemed often preoccupied with not letting anyone from the company upstage him. He is a handsome dancer too, which he relies on heavily but was lacking in certain details that are often required by an educated audience who are already used to handsome dancers.
The Théatre des Champs Ulysses Paris, is where Nijinsky and Diaghilev actually were present, rehersing and dancing, a century ago and I wanted to feel that spirit instead of Coté mostly relying on good looks and impressive bashing jumps. The details should be shown in between all of the showcasing, when he thinks that nobody is watching. Vaslav Nijinsky did have a fantastic jump, notably, but it was his character and expressive transformation that is remembered for influencing the world. McKie was, I venture to say, more connected to that type of essence than Coté and, to my knowledge, could have played the role himself except that he is substantially too tall to be believeable as the smaller sized Nijinsky.
However, it must not be overlooked that Coté is talented and eager and is likely giving his absolute best performances at this stage in his career. I cannot blame him if he was not quite able to trancend beyond himself the way Neumeier’s choreography demands. He did certainly try his hardest to impress us and I look forward to seeing this dancer again conceiveably in a less demanding role.
ULF GADDs Diaghilevs Ballet Russes – Eric Viudes
I still remember my first connection with the story of Nijinsky, in Ulf Gadds Diaghilevs Ballet Russes, with the Norwegian National Ballet in the 1986, where the Ballet Director, if I remember correctly, Anne Borg, let one of her young, but very well educated dancers, Eric Viudes (France), 21 years old, then not yet soloist, form the role of the innocent and enormously talented Nijinsky. It was extraordinary, because Viudes understod the importance of the details, that makes the role shine, also from the inside of the dancers body, and that was what Ulf Gadd and Anne Borg has noticed from Viudes during the rehersals. The premiere season 1986 Eric Viudes danced 18th Nijinsky performances, together with Fredric Rütter as a great Diaghilev.
This dancer played Romola, Nijinsky’s wife on opening night, and as pretty as she was, was still a bit bland for such brilliant choreography. I felt her to be cold and perhaps egoistic, – (as the role may dictate), but I was missing any warmness in her stage presentation and wondered if she actually knew the real story of Nijinsky or if she was just doing what she was told in a beautiful fashion. She did touch me in some moments but was mostly not as technically supple or emotionally advanced as I desired from such a pretty woman.
I anticipated the chemistry from the real life couple of Coté and Ogden to match the chemistry of the other casts, which it did not even though it was still beautiful.
The talented music director of the National Ballet of Canada conducted the performance brilliantly and led the young and very talented Orchestra Prométhée. The many excellent soloists, played bratche (Viola), violin and piano very well. Fellow critics and Music fans agreed that the Orchestra performed substantially better each night and Mr. Briskin should be praised for allowing soloists like the Violist to create a different atmosphere with the dancers each night. He gave freedom but also showed passion. It was, in my opinion, a very important statement to coordinate with live orchesta for this breathtaking ballet which gave young musicians in the orchestra a great responsibilty.
Among the exciting dancers seen in different leading roles from Nijinsky’s career, I enjoyed (the floating in air) Naoya Ebe,
sensual Francisco Gabriele Frola,
magical Skylar Campbell and throughly comitted Jonathan Renna. As Stanislav, Vaslav Nijinsky’s mentally disturbed brother, Dylan Tedaldi was a powerful standout during the second Act and Jenna Savella was very strong but not quite developed enough for my taste as the great Bronislava Nijinska. Sonia Rodriguez was the perfect image of Tamara Karsavina and the Pavlova-style ballerinas were exceptionally beautiful in all white.
Present at the October 3rd Opening night was the choreographer John Neumeier, who is also responsible for the wonderful scenography, costumes and light. (In this version, Ralf Merkel reconstructed the light.) I look forward to seeing more from this company and hope to see much more of dancers like Francesco Frola, Skylar Campbell, the captivating Svetlana Lunkina and outstanding Evan McKie. In such a direction, the National Ballet of Canada are ready to take on the world.
Paris premiere applaus video from: Canada National Ballet guesting in Paris 3.Oktober 2017 with NIJINSKY by John Neumeier, at Théatre des Champs Elysées.
Guillaume Coté as Vaslav Nijinsky
Evan McKie as Serge Diaghilev
Heather Ogden as Romola Nijinsky
Jenna Savella as Bronislova Nijinska
Dylan Tedaldi as his brother Stanislav Nijinsky
Sonia Rodriguez as Tamara Karsavina.
In the different Nijinsky roles:
As Harlequin Naoya Ebe.
As L´Esprit de la Rose – Naoya Ebe.
As The Slave in Sherazade – Francesco Gabriele Frola.
The young man in Jeux – Skylar Campbell.
The Faun – Francesco Gabriele Frola.
As Petrushka – Jonathan Renna.
Orchestra Prométhée conducted by David Briskin.
Applaus video – at https://youtu.be/IRwdchF2fck photo: Henning Høholt – Kulturkompasset.
A VIP reportage from the Paris premiere party is presented 7. october 17 at Facebook – Kulturkompasset and Henning Høholt, all photos by Henning Høholt