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Wearing ballet shoes, Peter Pan really flies

0 out of 4 stars

Peter Pan

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall

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In Winnipeg on Friday

There is a lot to crow about the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's original production of Peter Pan. The company commissioned one of its own to create the work, so choreographer Jorden Morris is well acquainted with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's lyrical yet feisty style and makes the dancers look good.

Morris sticks very closely to the original J.M. Barrie story, which means his ballet begins in a sweet Edwardian nursery and travels to a fantastical Maxwell Parrish-inspired Neverland. Along the way there are spirited scenes of daring do, not to mention the Darling children's dazzling flying adventure.

Peter Pan is one of the prettiest ballets in the RWB repertoire. Every scene change from designers Don Rutley and Andrew Beck is pleasing to the eye, from the starry skies behind the nursery window to the misty forests of Neverland and the colourful bridge deck of Hook's Jolly Roger.

Anne Armit's beautiful costumes range from Mr. and Mrs. Darling's attractive evening wear, to machismo pirate outfits, ragamuffin Lost Boys and adorable fairy dresses. No two costumes are the same, which is one of the most lovely features of the ballet.

The heart of the story is, of course, Peter, the boy who won't grow up, played by Yosuke Mino as a sulky, braggadocio whirling dervish. Emily Grizzell's Wendy is a charming tease. In fact, there is strong sexual chemistry between the two from the get go.

The delightful Vanessa Lawson is the mischievous, strong-willed Tinker Bell, while accomplished youngsters Filip Kurlowicz and Nikita Kopotun play the boisterous Michael and John Darling respectively. Alexander Gamayunov takes on the role of the phlegmatic if hungry Crocodile.

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Sadly, Nana the dog, the children's nurse, has been replaced by the crisply starched maid Liza (Serena Sandford). The rest of the beloved characters appear in Freudian dual roles. Jaime Vargas is both the kindly Mr. Darling and the murderous Captain Hook, CindyMarie Small is the nurturing Mrs. Darling and the exotic princess Tiger Lily, while Darren Anderson is Peter's capricious lost shadow and the dithery pirate Smee.

The score is simply gorgeous and is in good hands with sensitive conductor Earl Stafford and the excellent Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Morris's triumph is choosing music from English composers of Barrie's own time, and he has been absolutely brilliant in matching selection to action.

For example, Sir Edward Elgar's melancholy Nimrod from Enigma Variations underscores the despair of Mrs. Darling over her lost children, while the composer's rapid-fire Sun Dance from The Wand of Youth is perfect fare for the mercurial Tinker Bell. Morris has been equally clever in purloining appropriate pieces from Montague Phillips, Eric Coates, Ron Goodwin and even a Sir Benjamin Britten fugue.

Morris has all the goods to become a great ballet storyteller, but there are problems. He has yet to master making all his choreography speak specifically to plot and character. Rather, he tends to fall back into pure dance between scenes of obvious action.

For example, his pirates become a routine if virtuoso classical corps de ballet when they are not up to mischief and their movement combinations could be from anywhere. The pirates, especially Hook, should be more choreographically menacing and the Lost Boys more playful.

The puzzling if attractive pas de deux between Tiger Lily and the Crocodile gives them something to do but does not define either character. Both are underused in the story -- and I really miss the Crocodile's alarm clock.

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On the other hand, the choreographer succeeds mightily in his adroit portraits of his leading players, namely Peter, Wendy, Michael and John, with Tinker Bell as his finest creation. The tapestry of the fairy's flat-footed walk, splayed feet, precision toe work, thrust pelvis, and staccato arms perfectly captures her hair-trigger temper and abrupt mood swings. Not surprisingly, Lawson garnered the biggest cheers of the evening.

Peter Pan continues at Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall until Dec. 31.

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