Full of flash and innovation, Le Petit Prince is a step in a different direction for The National Ballet of Canada. Compared to the classical repertoire, this full-length ballet treads into contemporary territory, moving its audience from something we are used to seeing to something we have been waiting to see. Guillaume Côté, choreographic associate and principal dancer with the company, creates a visually striking representation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original story.
Le Petit Prince had its world premiere on Saturday June 4th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. The ballet tells the story of an Aviator’s encounter with a Little Prince who has left his asteroid to escape his needy and self-absorbed Rose. The Little Prince travels through the universe and meets several individuals each representing a human trait such as power or conceit. By the end of the ballet, he learns the importance of his Rose and the Aviator learns the importance of imagination.
Côté’s choreography follows no list of “must-have” moves. With a variety of solos, duets and group sections, the choreography takes risks with contemporary-like contractions, spirals and fluidity, transforming the classic tale into a newer version of itself. Complementing the choreography, video designer Finn Ross’s projections not only help the audience understand the story (including some text elements), but allow us to occasionally see the story from a bird’s eye view, a design distinctive from the usual frontal view. The detailed use of technology brings Le Petit Prince out of the past and into the present.
Kevin Lau’s score, commissioned expressly for this work, also steps away from the classical sounds associated with ballet. The use of piano and live voice evocatively match the choreography, reinforcing certain feelings like the mysteriousness of The Garden of Roses as the dancers eerily bourrée off stage, hair long and dishevelled, dresses billowing against the sparse, otherworldly sounds of the orchestra.
First Soloist Dylan Tedaldi, as the Little Prince, combines strong technique and boyish charm. His feet are noticeably silent when landing his extraordinary jumps. First Soloist Harrison James, as the Aviator, dances the fluid and weightless choreography with ease. He closes the show with a solo that evokes maturity and joy through his far-reaching arms, and legs that move as if through water. First Soloist Tanya Howard, as the Rose, dances with delicacy as her legs easily stretch into beautiful extensions. The Rose is meant to represent a tormented relationship full of dysfunction and mistreatment; unfortunately, that relationship was not obvious through the choreography. There seemed to be no difference between the Little Prince and the Rose’s initially disintegrating relationship and their eventually new-found love. Principal dancer Xiao Nan Yu, as the Snake, delivers the refined, accurate, serpent-like movements of the choreography using her arms and back with strength and elegance. Principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez, as the Fox, brings excitement to the stage with her dynamic leg work and darting jumps. Throughout the ballet, Côté displays his versatile choreography by shifting the quality of movement between sections and characters.
Supporting the choreography, set and costume designer Michael Levine dresses the dancers in costumes that are more commonly seen in contemporary dance. They move with the freeness of the dancers and choreography, not always skin tight and with surprising elements like sizeable, feathered wings and glittering, full bodysuits. The set, seeming minimal at first, surprises the audience as circular doors open up all over the walls and ceiling at different times in order to serve the action, allowing more dancers or more light on stage. Lighting designer David Finn tonally brings the show together with lighting that is sometimes ghostly, and sometimes sharp, with shafts shooting through holes that appear in the ceiling and walls.
Not only is Le Petit Prince exciting to watch, it holds value for The National Ballet of Canada as a full-length contemporary ballet choreographed by one of its own. It is too bad that the creative team does not solve the problem of frequent storytelling issues that come with full-length ballets. I would love to see a ballet where the story impacts the choreography as opposed to the story being merely an excuse to dance. However, Le Petit Prince remains unapologetic in its inventive flash and is still a step away from the ballet checklist, while maintaining the integrity of the art form.
The National Ballet of Canada performs Le Petit Prince from June 4th through June 12th, 2016 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.