Purity and human desire clash in Kaguyahime: The Moon Princess, the first show of the 2012-2013 season of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Les Grands is the third ballet company in the world to stage the abstract piece, which fuses contemporary dance with traditional ballet, and succeeds in bringing a mixture of Eastern and Western artistic traditions to Montreal.
According to a traditional tenth-century Japanese folk tale, Kaguyahime is a small girl who is found inside a shining stalk of bamboo and adopted by a bamboo cutter. Kaguyahime grows, and with her, an impossible beauty that attracts suitors from far-flung places—including the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor, Mikado, immediately falls in love with the maiden and requests to marry her. Saddened, Kaguyahime reveals that she is a princess from the moon sent to earth for a short time, and despite the Emperor’s attempts to use his army to stop her from leaving, she finally returns to her kingdom.
The ballet, choreographed by renowned Czech dance master Jiri Kylian, diverges from the traditional tale by including a full-fledged war sequence that represents the rivalry and ensuing chaos spurred by Kaguyahime’s beauty. Through his fight scenes, Kylian critiques the desire to possess the unattainable, and points to the tragedy of a lust that culminates in hatred, violence, and destruction.
The ballet company truly shines in the portrayal of the fight sequences, executed with refreshing grace and force. These scenes are permeated with symbolism, including the stark contrast between the light white fabric of the villagers’ attire to the lush black velvet of the Emperor’s army. Light and dark clash in a world mired in disarray, represented by the minimalist set design in which figures of horses fall chaotically from the sky.
Perhaps the more perplexing scenes are those in which Kaguyahime (Eva Kolarova) appears. In her solos, Kolarova contorts her body in shapes that range from fluid and smooth to controlled and precise—not quite in unison with the scarcely melodic flute tones that eerily infuse her solos. However, in her performances with other members of the company, Kaguyahime stands out by the ethereal quality of her movements, and Kolarova succeeds in her portrayal of the delicate moon princess, the physical embodiment of purity.
The ballet highlights the contrast between innocence and lustful possession when Kaguyahime, ensnared in golden silk by Mikado (Marcin Kaczorowski), dances in a vulnerable struggle for freedom that culminates in a spectacle of blinding mirrors. The light finally allows her the chance to escape the Emperor and return to the safety of the moon in the ballet’s tragic finale.
In addition to the skillful ballet company, the production boasts an impressive, world-renowned musical team performing Maki Ishii’s rhythmic score of intermingling Western and Eastern percussion. The performance includes guest conductor Michael de Roo, who conducted the orchestra for Kaguyahime’s premiere in 1998, members of the celebrated Japanese drum ensemble Kodo, and professional gagaku (imperial Japanese court music) repertory musicians playing in traditional imperial attire.
Les Grands Ballets’ performance of this rare, internationally-acclaimed ballet is captivating in its distinctive fusion of angular contemporary dance and ballet-based somersaults and duets. The story of the pure, peaceful moon princess disenchanted by the violence of earth is powerful in its simplicity and continues to resonate in this luminous blend of contemporary artistry and ancient wisdom.
Kaguyahime: The Moon Princess runs through Oct. 27 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts. Tickets range from $46.04 to $124.04.