Alberta Ballet Presents Dangerous Liaisons – Human ego in a dance of shadows

by Zosia Czarnecka

Ballet is an incredible art form because of its ability to push boundaries and showcase hidden sides of human consciousness and values. In Dangerous Liaisons, Alberta Ballet’s second performance of the season, Jean Grand-Maitre beautifully conveys how “ego can drive people to become truly evil.” The entire production plays with contrasts and ignores classical rules of ballet to showcase the egotistical, greedy, lust-driven soul of the characters. The large Jubilee stage was appropriately used by splitting it into a theatre stage along the back with ballet in the front. The result being that as characters acted in the background in beautiful 18th century costumes, their “souls” graced the front of the stage in nearly nude outfits to reveal the bare core of human nature.

I found this ballet to be technically astounding – the level of dancing far surpassed anything I expected from the company and showcased intricate movements significantly greater in difficulty and detail than last season’s. However, for a story entirely about passion, the theatre lacked the energy that normally emanates from the stage. Despite the dancers’ individual levels of talent, there seemed to be a shortness of cohesion among the troupe as a whole. At times, one or two dancers would be performing while four others danced in their background and while it’s not expected for them to engage with one another necessarily, it seemed as though each group wasn’t even cognisant of the other’s presence. It makes me wonder if perhaps there was some hesitation with this edgy adult-only production as it felt as though the dancers were holding back at times from expressing true passion that has traditionally radiated from the Jubilee stage in Alberta Ballet.

It’s possible that the dancers’ abilities to express themselves to their full potential was limited by the music itself. The music showcased a variety of instruments and sounds but did not experiment much with range or emotion, coming across as monotone at times and limiting the emotional engagement of the audience. At other times, it seemed borderline hysterical and distractingly high pitched, making it hard to immerse myself in the story.

On the other hand, the hysterical soundtrack at times highlighted the egotistical mania of the soul and power-hungry monster of Valmont and Merteuil’s characters. This was the first time I had experienced voiceover in ballet – Grand-Maitre’s decision to combine theatre and dance into one production was the perfect capture of Laclos’ novel. The letters read between Valmont and Merteuil in a sinister disconcerting tone, painted the uneasy side of the story to contrast the lustful passion on stage. The use of smoke machines to wash over the actors in the background left us questioning until the very end whether the actors were real or simply projections. Although the dancers may have lacked cohesion at times, the synchronicity between actors and dancers, souls and physical bodies, was sensational.

Overall, I appreciated Grand-Maitre’s take on Laclos’ novel and his ability to recreate the emotional rawness of the story while still translating the plot and characters onto stage. I would be hesitant to condone voiceover in all productions, even those with complex story lines, but the added dimension of the letters illuminated the contest between Merteuil and Valmont and raised this production to a higher level of detail.

Perhaps the most significant scene of the night, however, was Jean Grand-Maitre’s adieu to dancer Nicole Caron who concludes her 16th season with Alberta Ballet with her role as Cecile in Dangerous Liaisons. You can witness Caron’s talent one last time tonight at the final performance of the show in Edmonton. Alberta Ballet returns in December with The Nutcracker and in the New Year with Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound.  

Banner photography courtesy of Alberta Ballet.

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