Reviews: Urinetown, Ballet BC, Joaquin Grilo, Flashdance

Urinetown

November 1 – 29, Firehall Arts Centre

What if there comes a time when water shortages are so severe that it becomes a privilege to pee? Urinetown is back at the Firehall to explore this possibility with hilarious characters and songs, while playing with established musical theatre tropes.

Unique to this show is the narrator who breaks the fourth wall to welcome us to Urinetown, “the musical not the place,” and explain what we’re about to see. His conversations with the inquisitive Little Sally throughout the show explain what is going on, and as he explains in detail what we’re about to see, he says things like, “too much exposition can kill a show,” while Little Sally asks “what kind of musical is this?”

As the citizens count their pennies and line up to pee at the public amenity, Caldwell Cladwell discusses his plan for higher fees and his trip to Rio de Janiero. Bobby Strong works at the public amenity and after meeting Cladwell’s daughter, Hope, finds the courage to let people pee for free and stand up to the corporation, Urine Good Company. Officers Lockstock and Barrel try to calm the crowds as Bobby leads the rebellion and Hope is torn between supporting her father or her newfound love, Bobby.

While self-aware and verging on cliche in its mimicry of common musical theatre devices, this show manages to be fresh and inspiring. Anton Lipovetsky’s performance as Bobby was particularly impressive, along with Tracey Power as the precocious Little Sally who never broke her childish persona, and Andrew Wheeler as the headstrong Cladwell.

More information: firehallartscentre.ca.

Ballet_BC_Instant_Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC No. 29

November 6 – 8, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Ballet BC’s 29th season opener was another triple bill of bold contemporary ballet. The show’s title, No. 29, also refers to their 29th new creation since renewing the company in 2009.

A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art) by Jacopo Godani was first presented by Ballet BC in 2012, and this stark, minimalist work was worth seeing a second time. The lines of bright fluorescents hanging above the stage moved up and down to create very different moods throughout the piece. This work provided beautiful partner work between two of the male dancers and had a strong, aggressive tone that was emphasized by the blunt music of 48nord.

My favourite piece of the evening was Fernando Hernando Magadan’s world premiere of White Act. Inspired by La Sylphide and the romantic era, when tutus were long and ballets were lengthy love stories, this work dealt with the idea of the unattainable and temptation of the unknown. The desire to find true love sometimes leads us down dangerous paths, and this idea was represented through stunning emotional choreography, as the dancers seemed to embody and break free from the tropes of classical romantic ballets.

The final piece, An Instant, was a world premiere by Lesley Telford that had a beautiful, cinematic quality. It was inspired by a poem called “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska that was recited as the dancers represented the themes it contained. The cinematic quality of this work was emphasized in the way the choreography seemed to pause, rewind, and move in slow motion as some sections were repeated or slowed down for emphasis. We were left with a haunting image of one dancer backing away from another as if in slow motion, and the poetic  words, “It could have happened. It had to happen. It happened earlier. Later. Nearer. Farther off,” ringing in our ears.

More information: balletbc.com.

Grilo_Flamenco

Grilo in Concert

November 8, Vancouver Playhouse

Joaquin Grilo is a powerhouse of flamenco talent. His fiery footwork and ability to embody the music was simply magical. His whole body was used to translate the flamenco guitar playing of Juan Requena and singing of Jose Valencia into fluid, precise movement. As the headlining show of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, Grilo showed why flamenco is so powerful.

Grilo has won many awards, and his traditional flamenco technique is superb — this is what allows him to take that knowledge and add his own personality to his work. This show was full of Grilo’s sense of humour as he slyly looked at the audienced or paused for comedic effect. The crowd loved him.

Flamenco isn’t just about the dance though, it’s about the relationship between the dancer and the music. Valencia and Requena were on stage with Grilo as the music and dance became one entity, and they also had solos which showed off their tremendous talent.

Shouts of “Ole” could be heard from the audience throughout the show, and Grilo, Valencia, and Requena didn’t get away with a simple bow, the crowd clapped and cheered until the curtains opened again and they treated us to an improvised jam session of pure flamenco passion.

More information: vancouverflamencofestival.org.

Flashdance_2014_0121, edit2

Flashdance

November 11 – 16, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Everyone can picture the iconic scene from the film Flashdance, when Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) drenches herself in water, but unfortunately this iconic image was missing on opening night. Alex did the dance and arched her back over the chair, but the water was a blatantly missing element that everyone was expecting. The image used to advertise this show involves the main character on a chair with water spraying off of her hair as she puts her head back, so it was too bad that the opening night crowd missed out on this essential piece of the show. I’ve been assured that this won’t be a problem for the remaining performances.

This technical malfunction may have been out of their control, but my other complaint is that the role of Alex Owens, while dance heavy, should still require a stunning singing voice, yet that element was missing. Once you get over these issues, however, it is a really enjoyable show, and the classic songs from the soundtrack “Maniac” and “What a Feeling,” were performed with the right amount of passion.

Alex is a steel worker by day and exotic dancer by night, but her dream is to be a professional dancer and attend Shipley Academy to receive formal training. She ends up falling for Nick Hurley, son of the steel mill’s owner, and their relationship is stormy as Alex struggles to accept his help to get her an audition at Shipley. Alex’s best friend, Gloria, is a fellow dancer at Harry’s Bar, but she is convinced by C.C., a competing bar owner, to dance on his Chameleon stage instead. While the girls at Harry’s pride themselves on “putting it on,” Chameleon is all about taking it off.

While the story itself isn’t realistic and some of the technical aspects of this show left something to be desired, it was still a hugely entertaining show that will please Flashdance fans.

More information: broadwayacrosscanada.ca.