Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet hits the stage at Imperial Theatre: Young dancers bring Saint John a show they won’t forget

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Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet came to Saint John as part of its Maritime tour on Monday, Nov. 12. Saint John was the last stop on a four-city tour which included Halifax, Charlottetown and Fredericton. The company had not performed in Saint John since 2006, so our city was overdue for a boost of world-class culture!

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) is renowned worldwide for its diverse repertoire and exceptional dancers. Since its opening in 1939, the RWB has brought Canada some serious bragging rights. The company has performed in 581 cities across 44 countries worldwide, making it one of the most distinguished companies in Canada. It is also the longest‑running ballet company in North America.

Instead of performing a traditional ballet with one storyline, the company performed four different pieces on this tour. Each piece showcased a different element of the dancers, ranging from exquisite technical strength to the ability to infuse comedy into dance.

The show opened with a piece called In Tandem, performed by four women and two men. Any audience member who expected traditional steps reminiscent of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker was in for a surprise – this piece was dominated by contemporary, pulsating movements that explored the nuances of love, relationships and confrontation.

In the second performance, five exceptional dancers performed The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, a piece designed to stretch the dancers to their utmost technical limits. This was the fastest footwork this writer had ever seen on pointe. The audience spent 11 minutes gaping at the physical strength and abilities of these dancers. It would be impossible not to respect and admire these men and women for their talent.

The third piece was one of the newest pieces in the RWB repertoire: The Doorway: Scenes from Leonard Cohen debuted in May of this year. This performance is comprised of five Cohen songs, including the famous “Hallelujah.” Three of these songs were sung live by Allison Crowe, a B.C. native whose soulful voice complemented the emotions and movements of the dancers in this performance.

When interviewed about her involvement with the RWB, Crowe says, “I am humbled to be able to be a part of such a beautiful project, in tribute to such a wonderfully talented and brilliant man, Leonard Cohen.” Crowe’s voice was hauntingly beautiful in her rendition of Hallelujah, which was danced by Sophia Lee. This powerful piece gave goose bumps to many in the audience, while it brought others to tears.

The show closed with Pas D’Action, a satirical show-stopper which premiered in 1964 and has remained popular with modern audiences. This piece was lighthearted and comedic, as four male suitors competed for the attention of the moody princess. One of the dancers was Kingston, N.B. Native, Liam Caines, who joined the RWB school in 2003 and began dancing with the company in 2007. Caines has superb stage presence which was accentuated with his shiny golden leotard.

To prove how powerful these performances were, both The Doorway and Pas D’Action earned standing ovations from audiences in Saint John, Charlottetown, and Halifax. Although many elements of this performance were memorable, the jewel-toned tights of the four suitors in Pas D’Action might have left the most lasting impression.