Alberta Ballet’s Dangerous Liaisons presents strong movement but weak storyline

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a novel written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, published in 1782. It has been adapted for the stage and for film. In 1985 the Royal Shakespeare Company put on Christopher Hampton’s stage version Les Liaisons Dangereuse, which starred the late Allan Rickman as the Vicomte de Valmont and in 1988 it was adapted into a film in English, titled Dangerous Liaisons. It was a star studded film, with performances by Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman. In 2000, Artistic Director of Alberta Ballet Jean Grand-Maître was commissioned by the National Norwegian Ballet to create Les Liaisons Dangereux and now has revisited the choreography for Alberta Ballet. Dangerous Liaisons is a blending of dance and theatre, with a narrative that stays true to the original text. Sometimes the two mediums resonate but sometimes the theatre aspect comes off a bit flat.

The production is set up with the ballet taking place in the front of the stage and theatre taking place towards the back of the stage, separated by a sheer curtain. It tells the story of Marquise de Merteuil (danced by Heather Thomas, acted by Denise Clarke) who wants revenge over her ex lover the Compte de Bastide as he has proposed to the young virgin Cécile de Volange (danced by Nicole Caron, acted by Luna Sasaki). She asks Vicomte de Valmont (danced by Kelley McKinlay, acted by Garrett Groat) to seduce Cécile. He refuses because he wants to seduce Président de Tourvel (danced by Reilley McKinlay, Acted by Hayna Gutierrez) turning her away from God. Meanwhile Cécile has fallen in love with her music teacher Chevalier de Danceny (danced by Yoshiya Sakurai, acted by Jason Cao) while Cécile’s mother Madame de Volanges (danced by Heather Thomas, acted by Shino Mori) has written to warn Cécile about Valmont.

The choreography is dynamic and complex. The first part has ‘black angels’ on stage, male dancers with wings inked on their backs. Their movement is spider-like and angled. It is an interesting image to see the dancers reflect the narrative of the theatre piece behind them and only occasionally interact with it, though with this contrast directly on stage, the theatre comes off as flat and contrived in comparison to the expression of the movement of the dancers.

Guillaume Lord’s set design is in shades of beige, but works well to tell theatre and dance simultaneously. Martine Bertrand’s costume design allows for the time period, especially for the theatre actors. Lighting design by Pierre Lavoie sets the mood, changing to a blood-like red when Valmont is using sex to control the people around him.

The ballet is intriguing to watch technically, the movement is crisp and the lines are quite rich. The production does beg the questions as to why this story needed to be revisited. It a narrative that is flat and lacks any spark or depth, but the movement within the production is strong.

Alberta Ballet’s Dangerous Liaisons finishes its run in Calgary, but runs in Edmonton November 3-4.

More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Paul McGrath

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