Laugh along with Leonce+Lena

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ latest production will make you really love ballet

We all have a perception of what a night at the ballet should be like: fancy people drinking champagne before the show, and then, during the show, classical music filling your ears, graceful ballerinas in intricate tutus and pointe shoes gliding across the stage (albeit a little too slowly for your taste).

Well, apart from the drinking champagne before the show, Leonce+Lena, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ latest production, was nothing like your grandmother’s night at the ballet.

I was one of the lucky few that attended the show’s premiere. I was a little worried that I would not understand the story being told, since my last experience at the ballet had been one of confusion — I had gone to see Rodin/Claudel, not knowing what the story was.

Still, just by seeing the ad for Leonce+Lena, I had a feeling that this would be different. And it was, in the best way possible.

Leonce+Lena, a play written by Georg Büchner in 1838, is a comedic story of love that will keep you on your toes and get you to smile for hours.

In the first act, Prince Leonce learns that he must marry Princess Lena the very next day. After hearing the news, Leonce flees with Valerio, a newly-found friend.

Meanwhile, Lena does not want to marry a stranger either. In fact, she chooses to run away from her obligations with the help of her governess, not knowing that Leonce has done the same.

In the second act, the paths of the two strangers meet. The scene begins with Valerio and the governess courting each other. Leonce and Len’s paths cross, and, finding that they have so much in common, they fall in love — not knowing that they were meant to be married the following day.

During this time, preparations for the wedding at the Kingdom of Popo are underway, even though both the bride and groom are missing.  Both couples — Leonce, Lena, the governess, and Valerio — return to the kingdom, all dressed as automatons. Since the couple meant to be married is not present, the king orders Leonce and Lena, who he believes to be total strangers, to get married. Therefore, those who were meant to get married against their will somehow fell in love outside of the kingdom. Leonce becomes in charge of the affairs of the kingdom, just as he was meant to. All is well.

This ballet was simply incredible. The costumes were gorgeous — all taffeta and rich velvets in gem hues — and the sets simple but beautiful (my personal favourite touch was the chandeliers).

The live orchestra played magnificent, sometimes melancholic tunes throughout the play. Once in a while, the orchestra would stop playing, and well-known ballads would fill our ears — like the iconic song “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

The choreography was beautiful, but also upbeat and fun. The choreographer, Christian Spuck, truly did an amazing job. The dancers really spoke with their movements, all the while keeping the audience entertained — my favourite moment was when the King danced the Macarena.

Overall, Leonce+Lena is a beautiful production that anyone (including your grandmother) can enjoy.

Leonce+Lena is playing at Théâtre Maissonneuve every night at 8 p.m. until Sept. 27. For more information, visit


Romancing stones — the story of love, madness and art

The neoclassical ballet, Rodin/Claudel, traces the famous sculptors lives and love affair

The empty stage was eagerly waiting for the much anticipated show to start. The grandiose images of Rodin and Claudel hovering as backdrops for the stage filled the atmosphere of Theatre Maisonneuve with a mixture of uncertainty and curiosity, inciting the audience to imagine what could possibly come next.

French sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel’s torrid romance and body of work is depicted in the form of dancing “Sculptures,” that convey the shapes and emotions of their creators. Photo courtesy of Les Grands Ballet de Montreal.

This month, Les Grands Ballets de Montreal is restaging Rodin/Claudel, a neoclassical ballet conceived by Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz. This theatrical fusion of classical, academic ballet with contemporary concepts tells a story of passion, obsession and betrayal portrayed by the tumultuous lives of French sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. Aside from the titular characters, Quanz also uses a 12-member ensemble composed of six men and six women that embody the sculptures made by the two artists, and at the same time, the inflections of their feelings to revive this fervent story.

The famous 19th century sculptors meet in Paris in 1883 when Rodin is 43 and Claudel 19. Passionate about sculpture, she is sent by her father to Paris to study art. As women aren’t allowed to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux Arts at this time, she rents a studio shared with other sculptresses. Later she becomes an assistant and muse to Rodin. The intense love affair that forcefully blooms between them lasts for years, yet Rodin refuses to leave his other companion who bears him a son and who later becomes his wife.

As Rodin becomes more and more successful, Claudel, suffering disappointment in love and in her artistic path, sinks into poverty and gradually descends into madness — she spends the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.

The dancers wear period costumes with a touch of modernity, such as extravagant coloured dresses and suits, and costumes suggesting the paradisiacal nude covering the carefully carved bodies of the “sculptures.”

Beginning with the first scene, the décor impresses by its simplicity and neoclassical features. It is composed of a long white box that changes its position from scene to scene and a wall of lights that changes its minimalistic pattern, both are used to evoke the place where the characters are found (in a room, in the woods). Using less rigid, more flowing contemporary movements filling each corner of the stage, the dancers immerse the audience in the real-life love story of Rodin and Claudel governed by very well chosen music.

Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, Satie and Poulenc highlight with great precision the emotions and feelings of the characters and also of the dancers. However, very talented dancers, interesting plot and the best of romantic, impressionistic and avant-garde music is not enough to fully encourage the artistic capabilities of the dancers. Despite the free, contemporary style of the talented dancers, their movements lacked rigour, precision, and rhythm. So here, it seems as though the story takes precedence over the choreography and dance, that comes second.

The end of the show, marked by a metaphoric denouement of this unconventional love story, excited the audience who got up from their seats to applaud the gifted dancers, and passionately shout “Bravo!” Except for that one gentleman who is roused from a deep sleep by their applause — all of a sudden, he enthusiastically joins the audience shouting “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” just to get in on the action.

Les Grands Ballet de Montreal’s Rodin/Claudel runs until March 22 at Théâtre Maisonneuve.




Taking a trip with Aurora down a road you’ve never seen her on before

“All fairy tales have things in common…but each one has something unique about it,” said Mats Ek, whose modern adaptation of Sleeping Beauty is a truly unique fairy tale and ballet experience.

Heroine-induced trips provide for an unusual narrative of princess Aurora. Photo By John Hall

Le Grand Ballet’s production dances around the plot of the Disney adaptation most are familiar with, but strips it down to retell the story of family, love, and death.

We are presented with the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’, a young couple so wildly in love you quickly become both jealous of and hopeful for them. Then begins one of many suggestive scenes, this particular one entailing Aurora’s conception, then we are quickly swept to a birth scene. The four fairies — Gold, Emerald, Silver, and Ruby — work to deliver Aurora into the world, while warding off Carabosse, the modern day Maleficent. The scene is quirky and fun, somewhat distracting us from the dark comedy that is to come.

We watch, quite briefly, as Aurora grows, rebels against her parents, falls for a slew of men, and displays other normal teenage behaviour, until she meets Carabosse, who has been waiting for her the whole time. Drawn to the glorified life of drugs, led in hand by Carabosse, Aurora falls to the prick of a heroine needle.

The second act opens with a haunting trip through an addict’s mind, in what looks like rectangular chunks of ash that have fallen during intermission. The fairies enter to find the mess, and an unconscious Aurora, and struggle to clean up. Enter Prince Desire, who shouts directly at the audience, blaming us for being simple bystanders and not attempting to save the poor girl. The fairies plead for the prince’s help, and we continue to stand by as Aurora falls further into Carabosse’s soul-sucking lifestyle.

Hope finally seems on the horizon, as Prince Desire steps in to murder the dark forces in the princess’ life, and we are hopeful as the two take their first dance together and fall in love. And of course we cannot forget true love’s first kiss, which wakes Aurora from her coma. But just because the sun is shinning doesn’t mean we’re left with a happy ending.

Ek makes many bold moves within this production, such as the beheading of a raw fish on stage, and breaking ballet’s golden rule of no dialogue. He creates some strong images on stage using non-conventional light, sometimes as simply as by having a candle flicker as the King and Queen worry over their child.

Some scenes are a little too chaotic as you find yourself focused on trying to understand what is happening rather than focusing on the dance itself.

However, what makes this adaptation such a strong and stunning piece is the choreography. The King’s worry during the birth brings out the entire male cast and creates a dozen Kings rampant with worry; solos that clearly outline each fairy’s personality;  and, most especially, the trip through the addict’s mind at the opening of the second act — itself no longer than two minutes — hits so hard and so accurately that you begin to feel bad for standing aside and allowing it to happen. Elegant, quirky, and raw, each movement encapsulates the story and draws us down even further.

Sleeping Beauty runs until Oct. 26 at Théâtre Maisonneuve.


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