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Fabled Ballet: The National Ballet of Canada

In the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, a princess falls asleep for a hundred years and is awakened by a kiss from a prince. In the case of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W., 416-363-6671), a new jewel in Toronto’s cultural crown, it wasn’t quite a hundred years, but it might have felt like that at times.

More than 20 years in the making, the new home of the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company (COC) is a dramatic modern edifice that captivates as much as any of the shows that appear on its stage.

The opera house greets visitors with a spectacular glass façade and dominating the front lobby are three flights of glass stairs that seem to float in the air, accentuating the drama. Inside, the horseshoe-shaped R. Fraser Elliott Hall boasts unobstructed sightlines and curved walls that ensure the finest acoustics.

And the prince in this story? There were in fact two princes who had the magical kisses for this $181 million project, resurrecting it from the doldrums of the city’s memory. Richard Bradshaw, the COC’s general director, became the principal driving force behind it. He led the fundraising campaign, chose Toronto-based principal architect Jack Diamond (the other prince) of Diamond and Schmitt Architects to design the building, and made decisions about everything from the colour scheme to the acoustics.It is fitting then that the first production staged by the National Ballet Company here at its new home is The Sleeping Beauty.
In 1972, Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), one of the greatest male dancers of the 20th century, choreographed and starred in the National Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty, at that time the most expensive, lavish and opulent production of the company’s history. Dancing opposite of him was the legendary Karen Kain, then a principal dancer with the company and now its artistic director. It was this show that marked the company’s successful debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1973.

More than 30 years later, to inaugurate the company’s new home, an extravagant staging of Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty, complete with the original sets and costumes, takes the spotlight once again. When the curtain goes up on November 9 for the 2006/07 season, it will rise on a gloriously refurbished show. “To mark this new era for the company, it is fitting to open the season with a work that not only epitomizes the experience of classical ballet in its grandest form, but represents an important part of the National Ballet’s history,” says Kain. “The ballet was a turning point for the company in 1972 and I am happy to be able to celebrate this landmark work as we open our new home.”The original splendour of the costumes, conceived by set and costume designer Nicholas Georgiadis in 1972, have been restored along with wigs and sets to the tune of $700,000. The tutus worn by Kain and prima ballerina Veronica Tennant have been touched up, as have 340 other costumes. Twenty-one new costumes were created for the water nymphs based on Georgiadis’ original sketches. (Budgetary constraints in 1972 didn’t allot for these costumes, so the Naiads as they are called wore the Fairy Attendant costumes from the prologue.)

The company rolls out the big guns for this show: principal dancers Greta Hodgkinson, Sonia Rodriguez, Heather Ogden, Guillaume Côté, Aleksandar Antonijevic, Nehemiah Kish and Xiao Nan Yu will all dance the lead roles. Zdenek Konvalina, the company’s newest principal dancer, also has his turn in the spotlight.

The Sleeping Beauty not only nods to the 55-year-old dance company’s past, but hold the promise of a luminous future.

Works of two other celebrated choreographers round out the rest of the month. Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s (1929-1992) abstract Song of the Earth and George Balanchine’s (1904-1983) romantic Symphony in C Major, will be staged from November 22 to 26.

Tickets for all shows are $40 to $190; call 416-345-9595 to purchase. THE FIGURES OF SLEEPING BEAUTY
How a classic ages gracefully
The National Ballet spent a full $700,000 to restore the original sets, costumes and wigs, including:
340 Refurbished costumes
14 Repainted sets
35 Repaired backdrops
100+ Restored props
21 New costumes
122 Wigs

TIP! You can shop to support the National Ballet: all profits from Paper Things go towards financing new repertoires.—Linda Luong

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