Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Handmaid's Tale - Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet company have developed a reputation for exciting contemporary story ballets in recent years, so it was truly exciting to learn that the company had paired with NYC choreographer Lila York to interpret Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. From its very start, the piece set a highly theatrical tone, beginning with the stage opened in plain view, and  a stark set which simultaneously evoked the prison in Chicago and the brothel in Miss Saigon. Many steps were taken to give a feeling of being watched, including follow spots situated on the stage, and the very opening sequence in which Offred is stolen away from her family as they sat in the lower part of the stalls.

York's choreography clearly evoked the many complicated relationships, from the rigid and painful movements of the handmaids, to the sweeping jumps of the resistance, to the most uneasy feeling of voyeurism we felt as we watched Offred, the Colonel and his Wife dance a sickening pas de trois in which his wife used Offred as an extension of her own body. There are countless images from throughout the piece which called up similar feelings.

The company looked good throughout, although much of the corps work could have been cleaner. In particular, Yayoi Ban was fantastic as the headmistress of the handmaids, and Elisabeth Lamont's feature as the pregnant handmaid was stunning. Amanda Green had a spunky charm as Offred, but was out shone by the fabulous Sophia Lee dancing opposite her.

I look forward to this piece becoming a part of the company's regular repetoire.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson - Sweet and Salty Collective

This new Winnipeg theatre company burst out of the gates with their premiere production of Judith Thompson's The Crackwalker. Helmed by Debbie Patterson, the cast led the audience through an up close and personal interaction with people normally at an arm's distance from polite middle class company. Thompson's play, which focuses on a mentally challenged prostitute and her boyfriend, along with her abused friend and her abusive boyfriend lays out in plain view that which many of us wish to pretend does not occur; people of base needs making poor choices, all of which get infinitely more complex when a baby is introduced into the mix. Stylistically, the production took many risks which paid off; situated in the basement of a legion in what is generally considered a seedy neighbourhood, the first encounter with the characters is actually outside at a bus stop where the first scene takes place. The audience are then led in and downstairs, giving the feeling that they have truly stepped outside their own world and down into the underbelly. From there, in casual seating, the action takes place around the room, and many bar scenes make the audience feel that they are right there in the middle of things. This immersive quality was highly effective in initially creating a sense of comaraderie, then shocking us as the play transpires into judgement of the characters' actions, immediately followed by a realization of the prejudices which feed those thoughts.

The ensemble, led by Spenser Payne in the leading role, were superb.

If you missed this, you may have missed the best thing to step out on a stage (or orangey brown cacrpet) in Winnipeg this year.