Best Flute forward

Royal Winnipeg Ballet conjures up an irreverent take on The Magic Flute

Reviewers have called choreographer Mark Godden’s recent work
“bold” and “audacious,” and judging by the rumours
surrounding his ballet adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic
for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he’s been very
cheeky indeed. The choreographer of Dracula, the Royal Winnipeg
Ballet’s (RWB) 1998 hit (which Guy Maddin adapted into the celebrated
film Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary), has reteamed with costume
designer Paul Daigle, and according to two of the production’s dancers,
audiences may be surprised by the humour both men have found in the material.
In one scene, for instance, three plastic babies descend from the rafters
into the arms of three ladies of the night below. (Godden refers to these
harlots who sex up the ballet with push-up bras and seductive antics as

“We sit there on stage—our backs are to the audience at that
point—and the babies come down,” says glamazon Vanessa Lawson, an
Edmonton-born first soloist with the RWB who will also be performing as
Pamina in one of the two Edmonton shows. “And every time I’m
sitting there, I hear whispers from the audience, people saying ‘Oh my
goodness!’ I always have a little giggle as I’m facing the other

Godden uses humour as a means of updating the classic opera for a modern
sensibility, says Lawson. For instance, in the original, Tamino (the male
hero on a quest to rescue the daughter of the Queen of the Night) fights the
draw of a serpent; in Godden’s version, he must resist the pull of a
television set. Numerous other props and costuming choices were also made
with a modern audience in mind.

“Without the audience you have nothing,” says Edmonton-born
Darren Anderson, a dancer who, unusually, began his training at Victoria
School of the Performing Arts at 18. He’s currently part of the corps
de ballet in the RWP, having finished a three-year stint with the Cincinnati
Ballet. After his experiences touring throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe,
Anderson has come to believe that many choreographers struggle with
maintaining the energy level and interest of audiences.

“You can be true to yourself and you don’t have to sell
out,” he says, “but you also have to try to appeal to every
different level—from the children to the seniors, or people
who’ve gone to the ballet for years, and people who are going for the
first time. And I think using comical stuff, it keeps the energy level up and
kind of keeps it fresh for them instead of just sitting there in the stale
air, kind of thinking, ‘When’s this going to be over?’
Which tends to happen, unfortunately, with a lot of full-length ballets
especially. We’re lucky in this company, because in most of our
full-length ballets the energy keeps going, but in Cincinnati and in other
ballet companies I’ve seen, like in New York, I sit there thinking,
‘This is so boring!’”

Which is a shame, considering how ballet offers artists a very different
means of telling a story. To Anderson, ballet’s visceral qualities make
it an artform audiences can connect with in a unique way. “I think with
dance, because it is our body, it’s something that everybody can relate
to,” he says. “Because everyone can go out to a club and dance.
Not everyone can pick up a violin and play a violin.”

Lawson agrees, and hopes that unusual productions like The Magic Flute
gives the layperson further incentive to relocate from the couch to the
theatre. “Right now,” she says, “TV is so popular and
everybody is used to seeing a story told directly to them with all of the
dialogue, with all of the visual aspects, with everything right there, in
their face. So it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Whereas with
dance, it leaves a lot more to the imagination.” V

The Magic Flute Choreographed by Mark Godden •
Presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet • Jubilee Auditorium •
Fri-Sat, Apr 16-17 • 428-6839/451-8000

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