The Gift of Pandora’s Box by Ballet Victoria
When: Today to Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $37, $60, $80 regular or $15 kids 12 and under, available at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121.
What do Tchaikovsky, Avatar and Lady Gaga have in common? They’re all part of Ballet Victoria’s latest creation.
Love it or hate it, blending classical technique with pop-culture references is part of an effort to make ballet accessible to audiences of all ages, according to artistic director Paul Destrooper.
“It’s meant to be for families, so I have to speak to everybody,” he said. “When we do a story ballet, I will incorporate elements that are contemporary, so kids can relate to it.”
The company’s latest original work, The Gift of Pandora’s Box, recasts a Greek myth for modern day. Ballet Victoria’s usual nine-dancer company is joined by students from the Victoria Ballet Academy, bringing the cast to more than 25 members. Local pianists Jane Edler and Wendy Stouffer double in the roles of visiting family members, as well as musicians.
While many audience members know what to expect with classic ballets such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Giselle, Destrooper said their dated pantomime and storylines can be confusing to new ones. So he prefers to use the same high-level classical technique in a more familiar package.
Destrooper says he directs nods beyond young people to audience members of all ages. During one segment of the show, for example, performers will reference social dances relevant to each of their generations — from The Chicken Dance, for older performers, to PSY’s Gangnam Style, a dance that went viral on YouTube this year.
“I don’t want grandparents to be bored and only the kids to like it. I certainly don’t infantilize any of this. But I trigger the imagination of the kids, I try to speak to them,” he said. “At the same time we have all these little notes for the older people.”
And while storytelling is important to Destrooper, sometimes dance should stand on its own.
“There are parts that are obviously more poetic and don’t need to be explained to the letter,” he said.
For ballet purists, he includes the grand pas from The Nutcracker, complete with the “drop of doom.”
There are other nods to The Nutcracker. For example, much of the music is borrowed from Tchaikovsky’s original score. And a globetrotting, Drosselmeyer-like character brings gifts to the stage and Pandora is forbidden from opening one special box. When she does, pandemonium ensues.
But staging a full-scale Nutcracker is beyond Ballet Victoria’s limited budget, which is the company’s most consistent challenge.
“Because I don’t have the production values with the big sets and things, we have to be very creative using very simple things and just making a suggestion,” Destrooper said. “So you will not have the beautiful, $3-million backdrop from Alberta Ballet, or the half-a-million-dollar [backdrops] from Goh Ballet. But that’s why the story needs to be stronger.”
It takes more work to make it universal and accessible, but in Destrooper’s eyes, nothing is sacrificed.
“You never have to compromise on ballet technique and artistry to do that.”
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