MONTREAL — World premieres, classic works and a renowned visiting dance troupe mark a lively season presented by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.
Opening the season, sculptures come to life in the premiere of "Rodin/Claudel." The ballet marks the first full-length North American work for Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz, whose inspiration stemmed from a visit to a Paris museum a decade ago.
"When I was 19, I visited the Rodin Museum and I learned about the incredible story between Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel," Quanz said.
The visit led to research and a viewing of the 1988 French film "Camille Claudel," starring Isabelle Adjani.
"The emotional scope of that film was so epic that I immediately shelved the idea," Quanz said. "It was just too much for a 19-year-old brain."
Fast forward a decade later, Les Grands Ballets artistic director Gradimir Pankov was on the search for a new ballet. Quanz had previously choreographed "Kaleidoscope," a shorter work for Les Grands Ballets in 2008. He soon proposed "Rodin/Claudel."
"It was a French story with a powerful narrative," Quanz said. "This seemed like the perfect fit for Montreal."
PAIRING SCULPTURE, DANCE
Quanz got his green light, and the ballet debuts at 8 tonight. The narrative looks at the love affair between Rodin, the famous French sculptor, and Claudel, a sculptor in her own right 20 years his junior.
"She had a phenomenal talent as a sculptor," Quanz said. "But at that time (the mid-1880s), there was no possibility for a female sculptor to have a career."
Claudel actually hired Rodin as her tutor, Quanz said. Eventually Rodin hired her to work in his studio.
"She often worked on hands, on feet, on hair," Quanz said. "She worked on finishing very prominent parts of his sculptures. It's often debated on how much of his work comes from her ideas."
After Claudel made a name for herself working with Rodin, "her next challenge was to distance herself from him to show how her voice was different," Quanz said.
While the tumultuous tale makes for a rich narrative, the actual sculptures convey a great medium for the production.
"The sculptures are perfect for dance because they are the body," Quanz said.
In all, a dozen sculptures come to life on stage.
"They act as a Greek chorus," Quanz said. "They comment on what's happening."
Quanz is thrilled to have his work debut at Les Grands Ballets, and artistic director Gradimir Pankov is very happy to have the young choreographer on board. While Quanz pitched Pankov a few ideas, the artistic director was most intrigued with "Rodin/Claudel."
"This is something very dramatic and interesting, so why not write that story," Pankov told Quanz.
The result offered a "way of discovery," he said.
"It's that search for expression that makes for a good story," Pankov said.
Additional performances of "Rodin/Claudel" are set for 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Oct. 20, 22, 27, 28 and 29.
Rounding out the season, a Montreal holiday wouldn't be complete without a Les Grands Ballets production of "The Nutcracker."
"But it's new every time," Pankov said. "I like to change the cast, the costumes and the color. So for me, even if I've seen it so many times, it still appears new."
Fifteen performances of "The Nutcracker" will be held Dec. 10 through 30.
Tchaikovsky's classic "Swan Lake" will be performed by the 60-member Novosibirsk Ballet from Siberia, with music performed by the Grands Ballets Canadiens Orchestra on March 8, 9 and 10.
A Stravinsky double bill comes after that with "Soiree Stravinsky." "Noces" and "The Rite of Spring" are performed. The spring event is held March 22, 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31.
The renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will return as Les Grands Ballets guests to perform their 1960 classic "Revelation" April 19, 20 and 21.
Closing the season is "The Little Prince," another Les Grands Ballets premiere.
"It's very poetic," Pankov said. "The idea is to introduce a new generation to the ballet, and that's very important." The family classic is presented May 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.