By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — Ancient Asian but very animated influences, classic holiday works and an Elton John soundtrack highlight a lively season presented by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.
Opening tonight is “Kaguyahime: The Moon Princess.” “Kaguyahime” is a contemporary ballet based on Princess Kaguya, a 10th-century Japanese folktale character who has become the more modern inspiration for books, plays and even cartoons and video games.
“It is perhaps the oldest, most famous Japanese tale,” Les Grands Ballets Canadiens executive director Alain Dancyger said, adding that the work is the French equivalent of “Le Petit Prince” (“The Little Prince”) in the sense that “all the Japanese people know this story.”
Of the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens work, Dancyger said the audience can expect something very special.
“I would say that this is the most ambitious work we’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s the kind of production that can only be done live.”
The work is the first full-length ballet choreographed by Jiri Kylian.
“He’s usually an abstract choreographer. And this is a story ballet,” Dancyger said. “I think he’s one of the most thrilling choreographers today that we can find.”
Musically, the work employs a full contingent of Japanese kodo drum performers as well as a gagaku group, who play sixth-century instruments dressed in traditional Japanese Imperial costume.
“It’s visually stunning,” Dancyger said. “It’s a fusion piece. There’s an interaction between the kodo players and the dancers on stage.”
As for the dancing, he said, “it’s very physical.”
“It’s almost intense in the physicality,” Dancyger said. “And intense in the stillness the dancers need to have that you so often find in the Japanese tradition. The combination of all of this together makes this quite a unique project.”
“Kaguyahime” is performed through Saturday, Oct. 27.
Then it’s time for the holiday classic “The Nutcracker.”
Dancyger said Les Grands Ballets Canadiens is close to a big “Nutcracker” milestone.
“Next year, we celebrate our 50th anniversary of presenting ‘The Nutcracker.’”
The show still attracts some 45,000 people every year, he said.
“Nutcracker” stays fresh every year “because of the new dancers coming in,” he added.
“With this show, I’m always surprised to see new things,” Dancyger said with a laugh. And boy, has he seen it: With the company for 16 years, Dancyger estimates that between rehearsals and performances, he has seen the show hundreds of times.
“The Nutcracker” takes to the Place des Arts stage Thursday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 30.
In February, the National Ballet of China will perform “Raise the Red Lantern.”
“This is quite the coup for us,” Dancyger said, describing the piece as a classical work with a Chinese theme.
“There are sumptuous costumes and amazing sets. This is probably one of their best works.”
“Raise the Red Lantern” is presented Thursday, Feb. 21, through Sunday, Feb. 24.
‘DANZ & TOOT’
Next is “Danz & TooT.”
“This is a more contemporary program,” he said.
“Danz & TooT,” which was commissioned by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, is actually two choreographed programs in one with Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin handling the “Danz” side of things while Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman tackles the “TooT” portion, which takes on a circus theme. The music ranges the gamut from Beethoven to Brian Eno.
“This program really showcases the versatility and the physicality of the dancers of the company,” Dancyger said.
“Danz & TooT” takes the stage Thursday, March 14, through Saturday, March 23.
ELTON JOHN THEME
A little Elton John-inspired music and dance comes next with “Love Lies Bleeding.”
“This is the most far-out, I would say, of the season,” Dancyger said. “But fun.”
The music is all Elton John, with a ballet inspired by his life.
“It’s ballet in a cabaret form.”
“Love Lies Bleeding” is performed Wednesday, April 10, through Sunday, April 14.
Closing the season is “Dream Away,” a Les Grands Ballets Canadiens original work choreographed by Stephan Thoss, who created last year’s psychological short “Searching for Home.”
“Thoss is going to explore new avenues of expression in ballet,” Dancyger said. “He’s very abstract. It will be interesting to see.”
“Dream Away” is performed Thursday, May 16, through Saturday, May 25.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: Presentations by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. WHERE: Place des Arts, 175 Ste. Catherine St. W., Montreal. TICKETS: Subscription packages are now available. For more information, call (514) 849-0269 or visit www.grandsballets.com. For Places des Arts, call (514) 842-2112 or visit www.laplacedesarts.com.