CENTRE STAGE: Great Russian Ballet touring Canada and reviews of Janeane Garofalo, This is That, Betroffenheit, and Spellbound Contemporary Ballet

Performers (L-R) Bryan Arias, Cindy Salgado, Jonathon Young, David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen and, Jermaine Spivey capture the theatre-dance hybrid of Betroffenheit

Great Russian Ballet’s Giselle currently touring Canada

March 14 in Abbottsford; Vancouver show postponed and TBD

Most people would assume that Russians are used to the cold, but Viorel Balan, founder of Great Russian Ballet, assured me that when his company landed in Montreal, they were not prepared for the -35 degree weather. With 37 dancers and 10 crew members, the Great Russian Ballet began their Canadian tour on Valentine’s Day in Montreal and are now making their way west, stopping in 18 cities over just 30 days.

Balan’s sister Natalia stars in their production of Giselle, a story of love and betrayal. The role is very demanding for the prima ballerina, and involves a wide range of emotions. Giselle, first performed in 1841, is one of the most popular classical ballets, and I can’t wait to see this company full of world class talent.  

The company is using Marius Petipa’s choreography and has updated it slightly while using traditional Victorian costumes and sets, explained Balan. After their Canadian tour, the company has a break in Russia and then moves on to Germany, Brazil, and back to North America this summer with Swan Lake.

The Vancouver performance was originally set for February 23, but had to be postponed due to logistical difficulties. The company is currently looking for a new venue and date for that performance to go ahead; meanwhile, it might be worth the trip to Abbottsford to see this stunning classical ballet that has been selling out in Eastern Canada.


Janeane Garofalo

JFL Northwest

Feb 23, Rio Theatre

With her self-deprecating style of wry, wordy humour, Janeane Garofalo had the Rio Theatre in stitches talking about “that documentary The Walking Dead,” and her views on everything from gluten (we need it) to Spanx tights (she lives in them).

One of the best things about Garofalo’s humour is her ability to be so casual and act like she’s just having a conversation with the audience. She can tell a complex story, with plenty of large words, and she doesn’t have to dumb it down. Fans of her humour appreciate her linguistic knack and wouldn’t have it any other way.

While she likes to talk about politics, there were only a few mentions during her set — a quick reference to Harper being gone and Trudeau being much better — but for the most part she focused on ridiculing reality shows such as I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant and expressing the contempt she feels while watching House Hunters.

Garofalo also manages to throw in plenty of observational humour, including a hilarious scene where she overheard one woman say to another in Nordstrom Rack, “Remember, your eyebrows are sisters not twins.” It’s Garofalo’s ability to take a phrase like that and pack it with meaning and then unpack it with humour that makes her a master at her craft.


This is That

JFL Northwest

Feb 27, Vogue Theatre

Satire always runs the risk of being taken as fact by unassuming readers or listeners, and This is That is no exception. Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring host this popular CBC radio show, and along with producer Chris Kelly, they are always surprised when a story goes viral and is taken as fact. Their sleek production might sound like real news at first, but it soon becomes clear that their sophisticated humour is poking fun at everything from politics to parenting.

Their live show was set up as if we were watching them record one of their episodes in studio, with Kelly and Oldring performing multiple characters with many different accents. Between stories, a video screen played a montage of Canadian images, sending up our cultural identity and adding to the tradition of self-effacing Canadian humour.

Some of the funniest moments in the show were the (very real) listener call-ins responding to the stories, including people who think they have finally figured out what “This is That” really means. In September 2013, several media outlets, including USA Today and the Washington Times, reported on a This is That story about a youth soccer organization that had decided to play soccer without a ball to remove competition from the game.

Kelly and Oldring have backgrounds in improv, and their show involves a great deal of it. They explained after the show that they write the introduction for each story in advance and may think of some interview questions, but when they interview each other as guests on the show, their responses are not scripted and the interview can go many different ways.

My favourite stories from the show included the prison in Texas that has allowed inmates to bear arms and the infants’ rights activist that was interviewed to share her views on baby-proofing parliament.

Intelligent, hilarious, and very Canadian, This is That is my new favourite podcast.



Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre

Feb 25–27, Vancouver Playhouse

This monumental collaboration between Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot and Jonathan Young of Electric Company Theatre is a poignant theatre-dance hybrid that deals with the complex topics of trauma and addiction.

A voiceover talks of coping mechanisms and resisting temptation as Jonathan Young struggles to understand what he should do. He’s in an industrial warehouse-type room with white walls, two doors, and a pillar in the centre. As he contemplates his next move and repeats the mantra that “the user gets used,” he succumbs to the temptation of “showtime.”

The “showtime” dance numbers of ballroom, tap, showgirls, and flashy entertainment are a metaphor for the thrill of getting a fix of whatever you’re addicted to. Young, as the protagonist in the story, needs to feel the adrenaline of showtime, even though he knows it won’t lead to the desired result.

Pite’s choreography and Young’s writing and acting meld beautifully to create this world of inner turmoil. For the second half of the show, the stage is bare except for the pillar, and Young’s character seems to have come to terms with the fact that “there is nothing more down there to find” in his hole of addiction. The repetition of text and movement helps to solidify the message, and Pite masterfully translates that message in her choreography.

Pite explained in a talk before the show that the German word “betroffenheit” doesn’t translate directly to English, but means something close to shock, bewilderment, or impact. The word, found in a book about acting (And Then, We Act by Ann Bogart), was the seed of the show, and a personal traumatic incident from Jonathan Young’s own life was the engine that drove the creation. Not wanting to focus on the details of his own experience, Young worked with Pite to broaden the scope of the show, and the details of his own trauma are unimportant.

I look forward to seeing more from this duo, as Pite hinted that further collaborations are on the way. They are each immensely talented in their own fields and came together to create something unique and powerful.  


Spellbound Contemporary Ballet

Chutzpah! Festival

Feb 27–29, Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre

Italy’s Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, led by choreographer and Artistic Director Mauro Astolfi and Executive Director Valentina Marini, was founded in 1994 and tours to prestigious international festivals. It was a treat to see them presented at Chutzpah! with a packed show of five different pieces.

Astolfi’s choreography features a great deal of floor work, with the dancers rolling over one another and using momentum to push and pull each other in intricate formations. With dexterity and grace, the dancers not only performed the complex and demanding choreography, but also infused it with emotional depth and nuance.

I especially enjoyed a duet between Maria Cossu and Giovanni la Rocca that had Cossu rejecting la Rocca’s advances while he remained determined to get her attention. After that piece, la Rocca came down from the stage and took a seat in the front row, chatting with the audience members beside him. Moments later one of the female dancers walked down the aisle to yell at him (in Italian) and sent him back on the stage. She paused to speak to us in English, apologizing that we couldn’t understand what she had been yelling and saying that la Rocca was tired from dancing for three days in a row.

In the next piece la Rocca gave her a flower, but instead of keeping it, she gave it to an audience member. This unique sense of humour added to the variety of emotions displayed by the dancers, and while the choreography contained similar elements from one piece to the other, the emotional colouring was very different.

Seeing international companies like Spellbound is what makes the Chutzpah! dance programming so valuable, and I look forward to Israel’s Maria Kong, Gallim Dance from the USA, and Ballet Kelowna.