October 26, 2020

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Contemporary twist on classic ballet

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2019 (391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

La Bayadère is a 142-year-old ballet, but Wednesday will mark the first time the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has performed it in full.

Event preview

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La Bayadère
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
● Opens Wednesday, to Sunday
● Tonight to Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m.
● Centennial Concert Hall
● Tickets: $38.57-$132.57 at rwb.org

The company opens its 80th season with the Canadian première of Australian choreographer Greg Horsman’s reimagining of the sumptuous classical story ballet, which was first staged in 1877 in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Marius Petipa.

"It’s one of the biggest, most opulent classical ballets we’ve done with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, even from my time here of almost 30 years," says Tara Birtwhistle, the company’s associate artistic director and former principal dancer. "It’s a giant cast, the costumes are quite spectacular. And, of course, the story is very classical."

A co-production with Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet — which allowed the three companies to share the cost of mounting a ballet of this size — Horsman’s La Bayadère is not the La Bayadère of the 19th century. Horsman’s version sets the story of love, heartbreak, jealousy and murder in British Raj-era India. Prince Solor, the son of the maharajah of Koch Bihar, is in love with the beautiful Nikiya, a bayadère or temple dancer. But in an effort to bring peace to the region, the maharajah has arranged a marriage between Solor and Edith, the jealous daughter of the governor general of India.

The RWB opens its 80th season with the Canadian première of Australian choreographer Greg Horsman’s reimagining of La Bayadère. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

The RWB opens its 80th season with the Canadian première of Australian choreographer Greg Horsman’s reimagining of La Bayadère. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Greg Horsman has taken the story and made it a bit more contemporary," Birtwhistle says. "The original story takes place in ancient India, but he’s brought it to 1855. You can follow the story a little bit more. The original story refers to angering the gods whereas this story is angering contemporary life; he’s going against what society wants him to do; he’s choosing love."

Horsman kept the ballet’s most celebrated elements, such as the famously breathtaking opium dream sequence, The Kingdom of the Shades, which has been excerpted by ballet companies the world over — including by the RWB in 1990 with Evelyn Hart.

Dancer to hang up his pointe shoes

Dmitri Dovgoselets and Elizabeth Lamont in Romeo & Juliet last February. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Free Press files)

Dmitri Dovgoselets and Elizabeth Lamont in Romeo & Juliet last February. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Free Press files)

After 22 seasons with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, principal dancer Dmitri Dovgoselets has announced he will retire in 2020.

His performances as Prince Solor in La Bayadère Thursday and Saturday will be his last classical ballet performances with the company.

“It has been my greatest joy to have danced with the RWB here in Winnipeg and on stages around the world, but now the time has come to look forward to a new chapter in my life,” says the Kyiv-born dancer, who became a Canadian citizen in 2007.

After 22 seasons with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, prinicipal dancer Dmitri Dovgoselets has announced he will retire in 2020.

His performances as Prince Solor in La Bayadère Thursday and Saturday will be his last classical ballet performances with the company.

“It has been my greatest joy to have danced with the RWB here in Winnipeg and on stages around the world, but now the time has come to look forward to a new chapter in my life,” says the Kyiv-born dancer, who became a Canadian citizen in 2007.

“It has truly been a privilege to share the stage with my fellow artists throughout my career. I will be forever grateful to artistic director André Lewis and the entire team at the RWB for all of their support in making this incredible experience possible.”

Dovgoselets has performed in many memorable roles during his time with the RWB, including Albrecht in Giselle, Romeo in Rudi van Dantzig’s Romeo & Juliet, and the roles of Prince Désiré and Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty.

In 2017, he danced alongside Evelyn Hart in the world première of James Kudelka’s Vespers.

Dovgoselets, who trained at the the National Ballet School of Ukraine, joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as an apprentice in 1998 before being promoted to soloist in 2005 and principal dancer in 2015. A special celebration recognizing his service with the company is planned for Moulin Rouge’s run in February.

"(Solor) dreams of all these bayadères who have died from broken hearts coming down a mountainside," Birtwhistle says. "So, 24 women come down a ramp doing arabesques. It’s one of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in any classical ballet. It’s really beautiful and very, very challenging for the dancers."

It’s a scene that demands absolute precision — performed on an incline. Birtwhistle says the dancers have been working on the ramp in the studio since the beginning of August. "They’ve mastered it now, and it makes it quite beautiful because they look like they’re floating," she says. "That’s worth the price of admission alone. But the actual ballet is very opulent and beautiful."

She adds, too, that the technical demands of a classical ballet are a welcome challenge for the company. "It’s something dancers crave," she says. "The dancers have to act while really, really concentrating on their technique — very much like a figure skater."

“It’s one of the biggest, most opulent classical ballets we’ve done with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, even from my time here of almost 30 years,” says Tara Birtwhistle. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It’s one of the biggest, most opulent classical ballets we’ve done with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, even from my time here of almost 30 years,” says Tara Birtwhistle. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

La Bayadère is also an all-pointe-shoes-on-deck affair.

"To make the cast as big as it is, we’re using our aspirants from the aspirant program," Birtwhistle says, referring to the two-year post-secondary training program in the RWB School’s Professional Division. "Often we’ll use a few, but this time we’re using every single one." That’s 18 extra dancers, in addition to the company’s 25.

"That’s also been wonderful, that the aspirants and the company get to come together and rehearse for a few months, and (the aspirants) get experience with this huge ballet."

A co-production with Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet allows the three companies to share the cost of mounting a ballet of this size. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

A co-production with Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet allows the three companies to share the cost of mounting a ballet of this size. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Petipa’s La Bayadère was a product of its time, imbued with 19th-century orientalism. As Horsman has pointed out, when the ballet first made its première in 1877, India had been influenced or ruled by European countries — including Great Britain — for hundreds of years, a point not reflected in the original story. In addition to setting the ballet in the 19th century, Horsman included classical Indian movement and style in the temple dancer’s choreography.

Birtwhistle also reached out to Pamela Rebello, the executive director of Winnipeg’s India School of Dance, to collaborate on pre-show programming that will give some added context to the show. Those events are at 6:45 p.m., before the evening performances Wednesday to Saturday, and will feature dancers from India School of Dance.

"People need to come early," Birtwhistle says. "It’s going to be fun."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

   Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 10:03 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

October 2, 2019 at 1:13 PM: corrects Dmitri Dovgoselets' final performance dates

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