Register Friday | December 14 | 2018

The Dance Firmament

Montreal's Le Gala des Étoiles delivers

How many cities in North America can boast of an all-star ballet lineup, year after year? Le Gala des Étoiles, run by Victor Melnikoff and now in its twentieth edition, gathers together dancers from the most famous companies in the world. This year brought some old favourites as well as some new faces.

Houston Ballet's Zdenek Konvalina blazed through the emotionally charged "Variation for a Lost Friend," choreographed by Montreal's own Eddy Toussaint. Daniela Severian and Dmitri Simkin of Germany's Wiesbaden Ballet nearly brought the house down with their jazzy, Edith Piaf-inspired Trilogie de Paris. And from Pacific Northwest Ballet came Patricia Barker-she of the never-ending legs-and Jeffrey Stanton to perform impeccably Balanchine's Chaconne.

The brightest stars of the evening may have been Carlos Rodríguez and Angel Rojas from Madrid's Nuevo Ballet Español. These two filthy-hot flamenco dancers mesmerized the audience with their intense tapping-but it was their small movements that truly enthralled: the scrape of a shoe, the slow rolling up of a sleeve, a simple walk across the stage. All potent reminders that virtuosity isn't limited to grand jetés and multiple pirouettes.

Almost all the pieces were contemporary, or at least choreographed in the last century. Boston Ballet brought the only classical warhorses: the pas de deux from Don Quixote (Sarah Lamb and Yury Yanowsky) and Le Corsaire (Pollyana Ribeiro with Alexei Tyukov of Indianapolis' Ballet Internationale). While the two pieces were performed with spirit and competence, both were short of the electricity one expects.

The ballerina of the evening was Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada. Her performance of the "Summer" passage from James Kudelka's The Four Seasons (with the National Ballet's equally impressive Rex Harrington) showed a regal comportment and rock-solid technique that recall Karen Kain and Cynthia Gregory in their primes. Hodgkinson also dazzled in a passionate pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, this time partnered by Carlos Acosta of London's Royal Ballet.

The most lacklustre parts of the evening belonged to the Russian and Eastern European contingent. Yulia Makhalina (Kirov Ballet) and Stanislav Feco (National Theatre of Prague) looked under-rehearsed in a duet from Eugene Onegin. When Makhalina later returned to attempt "The Dying Swan," a woman in the audience near me quipped, "Is she dead yet?"-perfectly summing up the emotional effect of a tired, old piece that, frankly, should be taken out back and shot.

Her wit was probably primed by the preceding piece, Farukh Ruzimatov's self-choreographed "Death of a Poet." Pretention has no national borders and does not need an entry visa. Set to the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony, the piece unfortunately brought to mind how much better Roland Petit's "Le jeune homme et la mort" covered the same terrain.

Likewise, the struggling composer in Mário Radacovský's "Inspiration" (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens) felt conceptually too literal-but wait, a muse comes to the rescue! And what a muse. Anik Bissonnette, a prima in Montreal for many years now, is the sort of dancer who can transcend even the most hackneyed choreography. She isn't just doing ballet, she is ballet.