Jun 18, 2010

Russian Ballet Gala - Good Wine, Average Food, Surprising Performance, and Very Strange Crowd

Where do I begin… Well, this was the second year I've attended National Ballet's Mad Hot Gala at the Four Seasons. I am an avid theatergoer, and the annual event is a great way to close off the season. The Four Seasons Centre for The Performing Arts is one my favorite Toronto venues - it's a magnificent building with great acoustics built specifically for ballet and opera performances. This year, Mad Hot's theme was Russian Heat. Having Russian roots (well, at least speaking the language) gives me a different perspective on anything Russian-themed. First, it requires lots of careful planning. Russian culture is reach and complex and a few matrioshcas scattered around are not enough to imitate it. Second, I could see the event attracting an unusual crowd - people who've never been to the Four Seasons before, who've never seen a ballet performed there, women of all shapes and sizes "fashionably" dressed in skimpy animal-printed polyester frocks… The list can go on for a while turning the gala into an Eastern European émigré gathering. I was still exited to go, looking forward to the crème-de-la-crème performance and spending time with my mom and her girls.

I've spent a few moment pre-performance eyeballing the crowd. It was noticeably different from last year. Still, there were a few extraordinary couples - tuxedos, Valentino gowns, and Louboutin's. I guess they were the people buying $1,500 post-performance dinner tickets for an opportunity to mingle with the principal dancers and Karen Kain, the ballet's artistic director.

The performance itself evoked a whole range of emotions. To my surprise, it was almost two hours long (as oppose to less then an hour last year). The first 45 minutes were dedicated to Kudelka's Musings and at some point I felt like just getting up and leaving. Another surprise here - I always liked Kudelka and his fresh interpretations of classics. Strangely, this time even Mozart couldn't save his "choreography". Not one complex dance element is 45 minutes!

As if to contrast Kudelka's opening, the remaining 4 short performances were extraordinary. I especially enjoyed excerpt from Polyphonia (choreography by Christopher Wheeldone) and pas de deux from As Above, So Below (choreography by Mark Godden and danced to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata). It was a real treat to see Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk perform this beautiful and sensual piece.
Post-performance drinks and buffet were uneventful. The food was exactly the same as last year, the wine was a notch better, and Russian Standard mohitos have replaced Grey Goose martinis. Just as an FYI, mohito is NOT a traditional Russian drink. The few highlights included two weird-looking elderly gents (pictured) dressed as pseudo-Russian generals. They clearly didn't do their research before putting together the costumes.

I will go to the Mad Hot next year again hoping for the best.


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