In La Ronde, National Ballet of Canada artistic associate Glen Tetley has created a choreographic equivalent of the Kama Sutra, the classical Indian text on eroticism. The dance, which premièred recently at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre—and which the National will present in Calgary early next year as part of the Olympic Arts Festival—begins with the highly charged encounter between a soldier and a prostitute. After a sultry pas de deux describing sexual intimacy, the prostitute leaves the stage while the soldier performs a euphoric postcoital solo. Then, he pursues a new conquest—a parlormaid. Abandoned by the soldier, she proceeds to a tryst with a young gentleman. The 42-minute dance builds in a series of couplings until at the end the prostitute returns to make love with a jaded count, the last link in La Ronde’s erotic daisy chain.
Tetley—whose 1986 ballet Alice won enthusiastic reviews for the National-says that he aimed to do more than create a titillating merry-goround. The Ohio-born choreographer based La Ronde on the controversial turn-of-the-century play by Arthur Schnitzler, a Viennese physicianturned-writer and friend of Sigmund Freud. Tetley, himself a medical school dropout, says that he was drawn by the play’s dance-like structure and its dark undercurrents.
Schnitzler’s daring work, suppressed by Viennese authorities for more than two decades, makes a bitter case for the elusiveness of real intimacy. It pairs lovers interested in conquest with those starved for affection. Said Tetley: “The play is a mixture of the passionate and the satiric. To me, there’s a chilling feeling of loneliness at the end.” Despite its buoyant score, Sinfonietta, Op. 5, by Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the ballet suggests—chiefly in the languorous way some characters dance after sex— that their encounters are somehow life-destroying.
A former dancer himself, Tetley has won international acclaim for his psychologically charged work, a mixture of balletic discipline and the eloquence of modern dance. The choreographer is quick to praise the Canadian troupe, calling them ideally suited to La Ronde’s diversity of characters. Said Tetley: “The National is unique in having very strong individualistic dancers.”
There are two casts for La Ronde, one featuring Karen Kain as a domineering actress and Frank Augustyn as the count. Their encounter is one of the most arresting moments in the ballet: lying on his back, the count supports the actress by her arching back and sways her gently from side to side above him. Like much of La Ronde, the scene is touched with Tetley’s genius.
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