The National Ballet of Canada opens their summer season with Hamlet. Choreographed by American-born choreographer Kevin O’Day, the aristic director at Mannheim Ballet in Germany, this production is dark and eerie, full of all the drama of the Shakespearian play.
The ballet opens with Hamlet alone with his thoughts, almost in a tantrum, pushing and kicking away from his body; dancing through awkward and uncomfortable positions on an extension of the stage that sits over the orchestra coming straight out to the audience. We get straight into the story as the ghosy of Hamlet’s father tells him of his uncle’s treachery (Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, kills King Hamlet Sr. to gain the throne and beds Hamlet Jr.’s mother, Gertrude, as his queen).
The production stays quite true to play, even though the ballet deals more with the themes and emotions of the characters. Nevertheless, be sure to read the Cole’s Notes before viewing the ballet as it will make the story arc clearer, and get the viewer right into the heart of the characters.
The ballet is clearly of the contemporary idiom and O’Day incorporates the use of soft shoe and pointe shoe work for the women, something rarely seen at the National Ballet of Canada. The choreography is intricate and demanding, both artistically and physically. This is a ballet that is typical O’Day, with fluid, non-linear movement phrases and acrobatic and flying lifts, mixed with athletic and experimental steps. There is certainly a lot of meat for the dancers to dive into as they perform in a two-storey, box-shaped set, comprised of stairs, poles and multiple working doors.
The music is truly unique. Composer John King, a New York jazz artist, provides the ballet and the audience with sounds that are new to the Four Seasons Centre. The music is richly percussive, haunting, syncopated, highly improvised and at its core, jazzy. King delivers the emotional elements of the characters through his highly dynamic and edgy music. The music ranges from simple and minimal, through to dense and beat-driven. Using electronic technology, where the musician’s notes are fed through microphones, processed through a computer and fed out to the audience, along with lots of improvisation, the music is a living, changing medium from night to night.
As a whole the ballet comes off as a total package. It’s deep, emotional, sinister, intriguing and much more. This work is a great fit for European audiences, who crave the avant-garde, but are Torontonian audiences ready for this kind of contemporary uniqueness? We’ll have to wait and see.
If you’re looking for something fresh and daring to pop your mind open, go see this show! But, if you’re looking for a classic re-telling, stick with a movie.