The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra ventured into the world of shadow with its latest Pops concert featuring celebrated performing troupe Le Ombré.
Friday night's program, led by WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano, featured the world-renowned company that spins tales using contemporary dance, tumbling acrobatics and classical ballet. As their lithe bodies become silhouetted against a large backlit scrim, the 10-member ensemble transports viewers to places far and beyond, including ocean depths, halls of mountain kings and even down Alice in Wonderland's fateful rabbit hole.
As a curious coincidence, the quickly paced program opened with Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Swans from the ballet Swan Lake, as though an outtake from the WSO's recent Tchaikovsky Festival. As the amplified orchestra performed from behind the screen, swans and ballerinas magically appeared in silhouette. One ballerina in a crisp white tutu downstage added another layer of three-dimensionality, with each work choreographed by show director Aloysia Gavre and Robert Bottoms frequently playing with perspective.
Debussy's Clair de Lune also elicited early oohs and ahs from the crowd as the performers morphed into a host of sea creatures: urchins, sea turtles, scuttling crabs and, finally, a looming mermaid sitting atop craggy rocks.
Despite its cleverness, the show at times felt somewhat static. A heavily scripted Pellicano announcing Ravel's iconic Bolero that originally premièred as a ballet in 1928 was being returned to its original dance roots did not really materialize. Five female, sequined dancers flanking hunky showman Marco Balestracci's matador as he twirled a large metal frame mid-air just sort of stood there without moving a muscle. After a while, the series of tumbling gymnastics and even the contortionist tricks -- as impressive as they were -- began to wear thin. Hearing the maestro's disembodied voice as he introduced each selection from behind the screen also felt alienating, despite Pellicano's enthusiasm and quick save when one piece got out of turn.
What works best is when the performers create singular, gorgeous imagery imbued with poetic resonance.
During Barber's searing Adagio for Strings, the ensemble holds umbrellas aloft as billowing clouds in the video projections blow across the screen. Further, dancers' bodies wrapping and twisting themselves into individual letters to form words provide pure magic -- although no spoiler alert here.
It's also effective when the performers directly interact with the video images. When one dancer suddenly morphs into a marionette on a string, or another leaps into a giant palm, it speaks to a higher level during the Peer Gynt excerpt.
Still, a show that promises to "take you back your childhood" is always welcomed. In this day and age of high technology, it's also strangely reassuring that mere shadows -- rather than being feared -- still possess the power to amaze kids of all ages.
The concert repeats tonight, 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.