Theatre review of Alberta Ballet's Balletlujah!; September 24 - 26, 2015 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, AB; October 2 - 3, 2015 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, AB.

Hallelujah for Balletlujah!

Dance has the capability to paint some of the most captivating stories in the world and allow you to intimately experience the heartache and triumphs of these stories’ characters. Alberta Ballet’s 2015/2016 season opener, Balletlujah!, which graced the stage of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium last weekend, did just that.

Celebrating its 49th season, Alberta Ballet has earned worldwide recognition for its portrait ballets, which are ballets inspired by the works of contemporary music legends such as Sir Elton John and Sarah McLachlan. Balletlujah! is a portrait ballet that honours Canadian music pioneer k.d. lang. First presented by Alberta Ballet in 2013, Balletlujah! has since received international critical acclaim and last weekend’s performance marked its second run in Calgary.

Tara Williamson and Nicole Caron as the lead couple in "Balletlujah!" (Photo courtesy of Paul McGrath).

Though inspired by the musical works of lang, the story of Balletlujah! is fictitious and follows the journey of a young cowgirl from the Alberta prairies who falls in love with another young woman. The couple moves to the exciting city of LA only to experience relationship challenges in the city of angels.

On the evening that I attended Balletlujah!, Nicole Caron was absolutely riveting in the lead role, known as "She". Caron’s maturity as a dancer and performer was magnificent and captivating to watch. She blended her brilliant dance technique with amazing characterization, sensuality and passion. Matched with lang’s compelling music, Caron projected her character’s story up to the rafters of the Jubilee Auditorium and beyond.

Ensemble members performing Jean Grand-Maitre's stunning choreography (Photo courtesy of Paul McGrath).

As Caron’s love interest, "First Love", Taryn Nowels was an excellent match. Nowels and Caron shared exciting and believable onstage chemistry. Nowels’ beautiful lines were wonderful to watch and she portrayed her character’s strengths and flaws very well.

Two standout dancers in the ensemble were Garrett Groat and Yukichi Hattori. Groat carries himself with extraordinary masculine grace. His movements are captivating to the eye and his gorgeous stage presence illuminates the stage. Even when dancing within an ensemble, it’s hard not to be drawn to his brilliant talent.

 At a previous event, I had the pleasure of meeting Alberta Ballet principal dancers Hayna Gutierrez (left) and Garrett Groat (right).

At a previous event, I had the pleasure of meeting Alberta Ballet principal dancers Hayna Gutierrez (left) and Garrett Groat (right).

One of the highlights of attending every Alberta Ballet performance is beholding the outstanding Hattori. He is no question one of the greatest dancers in the world. His leaps spring him to the rafters, his turns are incredible, his ability to master both classical and contemporary choreography is remarkable, and he always brings thrilling bravado to his work. To the delight of the audience, Hattori did not disappoint in Balletlujah! and his dancing, as usual, was breathtaking.

The choreography, created by Alberta Ballet’s artistic director, Jean Grand-Maître, was pure magic onstage. From the rousing barn dance, which ended in dynamite fashion with Caron doing a spectacular series of fouettes surrounded by the high-energy ensemble, to Caron’s contemplative solos where her character’s thoughts and feelings were expressed as clearly as if spoken aloud, watching Grand-Maître’s choreography was like watching moving, breathing art.

Grand-Maître’s choreography uses a superb palette of contemporary ballet to paint the characters' stories in collaboration with a selection of lang’s greatest musical works. Combined with the efforts of the ballet’s design team, Adam Larsen (video design), Pierre Lavoie (lighting), Guillaume Lord (set) and Anne-Seguin Poirier (costumes), I had the pleasure of watching a brilliant tapestry come alive onstage. 

Hanya Gutierrez (right) sticks an arabesque, with support from Tara Williamson (left). (Photo courtesy of Paul McGrath).

The lasting image I have of Balletlujah! is the final dance, set to a moving rendition of the song, Hallelujah, as performed by lang. The Alberta Ballet company dancers produced haunting and compelling images, stories and movement that will be interpreted in many different ways. My personal interpretation of the final dance piece was that it reminds us of how fortunate we are when we get to experience love and hope, in a world where tremendous heartache and tragedy surrounds us. 

Hallelujah for Balletlujah!, a gorgeous piece of theatrical artistry that  reminds you how beautiful it is to fall in love and to be able to dream of your life ahead. 

*Note: At other performances, the role of "She" was played by Hayna Gutierrez and Luna Sasaki; the role of "First Love" was played by Serena Sanford and Alexandra Gibson. Former company member Tara Williamson was previously seen in the role of "First Love" in the initial run of Balletlujah! and appears in many of the photos released to the media.