Arts Review

Truth was stranger – and more interesting – than the fiction in this Canadian dance

Eric Nipp and Amanda Green
Eric Nipp and Amanda Green (Photo courtesy of Bruce Monk)

Moulin Rouge: The Ballet

Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress
Feb. 2

Classical ballet offers dance-makers an endless allowance for fantasy: Peasants can be bright-faced and happy, men can fall in love with insects and fowl, ghosts and sprites can choose the destinies of mortals. Yet truths about fin de siècle Paris remain stranger – and more engaging – than the fictions in Jorden Morris' Moulin Rouge: The Ballet, danced by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet of Canada.

The ballet chronicles relations between Matthew, an artist, and Nathalie, a laundress-turned-star of the famed Paris cabaret. As Matthew's benevolent mentor and sidekick, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec provides a framework for the love story. Never mind that Toulouse-Lautrec suffered tremendous physical disability IRL; first soloist Yosuke Mino, bearded and topped with a bowler, leaps and pirouettes with strength and precision. Rather than the tormented, deformed alcoholic of history, this Toulouse-Lautrec is a solemn, benevolent sprite – a sad little fairy godfather for Matthew.

As Matthew, the strong, well-proportioned Harrison James pursues Jo-Ann Sundermeier's Nathalie with beautifully positioned turns and lofty jumps. Sundermeier displays a steely soft physique and technique that gracefully carry her through quick turns and lilting pas de deux. But while her legs were expressive, her face was not; save for a few moments in a cancan section, her countenance was alternately vacant and forced. And hers wasn't the only one. With the exceptions of Amanda Green as la Goulue and Emily Grizzell in various roles, blandness of face was, unfortunately, a trend. If you found yourself wearing a voluminous, brightly colored skirt and seated on the shoulder of a strong, good-looking man, could you keep a straight face? The women of RWB could.

The fact that the Austin performance came midway in a five-cities-in-five-days run could have been a factor in the dullness. Another could have been the difficulty of finding one's character in a ballet that changes abruptly from comedy to tragedy, with little dramatic substance to guide it. During Matthew and Nathalie's courtship and Matthew's pursuit, it's mostly fun, games, and cancan. When Nathalie argues with the owner of the Moulin Rouge, her jutting chin makes clear her annoyance with him but not any passion for Matthew. Once shot by a bullet meant for Matthew, Nathalie continues to dance for 10 minutes, bleeding from her chest. When she swoons, Toulouse-Lautrec, ever so helpful and ridiculous, offers her a chair. (Have a seat; it's merely a flesh wound.)

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Moulin Rouge: The Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet of Canada, Jorden Morris, Paramount Theatre, Yosuke Mino, Harrison James, Jo-Ann Sundermeier

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