This weekend, I happened to be in Toronto because my father was being honoured at the Fields Institute for Mathematical Sciences and we were all able to come join in the celebration (which was fabulous). It also happened to be the opening of the National Ballet of Canada‘s Le Petit Prince so I managed to rearrange a few things (thanks to family) and take Isabelle to go see it.
Le Petit Prince is a philosphical story that is one of the most well known around the world, and I have to confess that I haven’t read it yet. I knew the basic idea behind the story and in the program my daughter and I read about the various characters/symbols of the story. We also picked up a copy of the Le Petit Prince to read together when we got home. Guillaume Côté, principal with National Ballet of Canada, and choreographer of Le Petit Prince, said himself “[Le Petit Prince] is more a story about characters and relationships than narratives per se.” So, I wasn’t sure how well Isabelle and I would be able to follow this story that was unfamiliar to us.
The answer was clear within minutes. Guillaume Côté‘s Le Petit Prince was incredibly easy to follow. At times you almost felt that you were watching an animated story with the details of the lighting, the incredible costume design that seemed to transform the dancers into the characters themselves rather than just cloaking dancers in outfits, and titles hand written would appear scrawled across the set to bring even more of the book to life. I’ve seen images from Le Petit Prince on T shirts, in memes, on postcards, and skimming through the book and there were definite moments on stage where I could see a picture straight out of the book.
This year, I have seen a few contemporary ballets where the stage was transformed from a three sided box with an open “window” into something different and I loved the simple shift in space because the effect on the performance is dramatic. In Boston Ballet’s Mirrors for their performance of Resonance and then again in Bitches Brew where the wings were simply shifted to the back of the stage these subtle changes break the mold of a traditional stage. In the National Ballet of Canada’s Le Petit Prince, Michael Levine’s set and costume design takes the idea of transforming the stage to another whole level. The set and costume design is impeccable (barring a tiny prop failure on opening night). The set could be a movie set; an animated movie set. It is so transformative and fluid that it seems to have the limitless possibilities that only digital animation traditionally allows. The space felt like another place and was so seamless that one could imagine stepping onto the stage and becoming a part of the story, whisked away from the physical space of the theatre and the dot on the map that is Toronto to an animated world in some other dimension. From the lights that appear in the “sky” to the moving parts that become entrances and exits for the characters in the story, the audience relished every detail.
Le Petit Prince is a story that resonates with both children and adults on different levels. It is like a fairy tale where the moral is woven so tightly into the story that when presented as a live performance like this you seem to absorb it through all your senses rather than just ruminate about it with your mind. Even though I have never crashed in a desert, or been betrayed by a snake, somehow the dancing, the music, the set and costumes all make you understand the message. It really reminds me of the complexity that animation allows but in live performance form.
Le Petit Prince was a collaboration with dancer/choreographer Guillaume Côté, set and costume designer Michael Levine, and composer Kevin Lau at the core and of course with the dancers, lighting designer David Finn, video designer Finn Ross, and director Karen Kain as well. As part of their process, Côté, Levine and Lau had workshops where they could work together. As set and costume designer Michael Levine put it, “there is an alchemy of collaboration” when you put the dancers, composer, choreographer, and designer all toegther. The result was an iteration of Le Petit Prince that wasn’t layered with the music, which then had the movement put to the music, and then had the set and costumes designed to go with the story. Instead, you get this single tightly woven fabric of dance, music and design, woven together to retell the story of Le Petit Prince. It is clear that this method of working closely together in a collaborative way payed off.
Now let’s get to the dancing. Dylan Tedaldi was a wonderful Petit Prince. His dancing was strong and free, giving the audience that childlike feeling of moving with abandon, but as the story went on more emotion and self-awareness came through. The duets between First Soloists Dylan Tedaldi, as le Petit Prince, and Harrison James as, L’Aviateur, were both great story telling moments as well as beautiful partnering. First Soloist Tanya Howard, as the rose, and Principal Xia Nan Yu, as the serpent were stunning to watch. The rose had a very soft sadness in the costume design and movement whereas the serpent was graceful and deceptively wicked in her movement even shedding her skin as she entered the scene. Sonia Rodriguez‘ fox was playful and seemed to represent a new emotion teaching Le Petit Prince to love. It is a bit ironic that a fox, who is typically seen as sly, wild and untrustworthy is the one who gives the lesson on taming, and truth in love.
The corps had some wonderful moments as the roses, part of the larger body of the serpent and the wild birds. The patterns and moving in unison during key parts of the story allow you to see beyond the individual dancers and you see a bigger picture representing flight, slithering snakes, and a garden of roses. At times like those, the corps choreography was perfectly on point and magical, but a few on stage transitions in and out of the larger groups were not quite as magical and felt a little disconnected. However, that’s the only flaw I could find in the entire two acts.
The music, sounded like a symphony that could stand alone yet, as mentioned before, it was woven tightly into the entire work as if the movement and music were destined for one another, like Le Petit Prince and his rose. I particularly liked, how the music for the wild birds reflected the dancers. Since the birds were transformed so completely that you couldn’t tell (especially from the 5th ring) which dancers were male and which were female, the music gave them each their own overtones. While the costumes disguised the dancers completely, the choreography and music separated them with the women on pointe dancing to a higher lighter sound and the men “en l’air” with a heavier, deeper musical tone.
This is a production I look forward to seeing over and over again. I could go see it again tomorrow and would see things I missed the first time. I want to see it again 10 years from now when Isabelle will begin to see more of the story as she, hopefully, keeps her childhood close to heart while having navigated the world of adulthood. I can see the ballet of Le Petit Prince living on for a very long time and being performed by companies around the world.
Bravo à tous!!
Le Petit Prince is performed at the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts through June 12th.
All performance of Le Petit Prince are now Sold Out. A limited number of Standing Room tickets are available on the day of show. Standing Room must be purchased in person at the Box Office as of 11:00 am on the day of a performance. Please contact Audience and Donor Services at 416 (toll free 1 866) 345 9595 for further assistance.
Side note: Isabelle was a bit disappointed that she couldn’t get an autograph from former Boston Ballet Student and current First Soloist Dylan Tedaldi to give to her ballet teachers, Mr. Hird and Ms. Atkins, but she still has some beautiful postcards for them. Whereas, National Ballet dancers often do autographs on posters at intermission, since they are all on stage for the second act, it is not possible for this production.