By Tatiana Craine
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet held the world premiere of their newest endeavor, “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet,” at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium. The entire theater was filled to the brim with ballet-enthusiasts, young and old. Perhaps it was the ballet’s namesake that got people turning out in the thousands. Or maybe it was the thought of experiencing the pomp and circumstance surrounding the world premiere of a ballet. Whatever the reason, the crowd buzzed with excitement before the start of the show.The performance, clocking in at a bit over two hours, followed two ill-fated lovers in Paris at the turn of the century. At the very beginning, a young painter named Matthew makes his first trip to Paris. Upon his arrival, he gets hoodwinked by a group of gypsies who take his belongings. However, this seemingly unfortunate turn of events leads him to meet his true love. Nathalie, a good-hearted laundress, falls head over heels for Matthew when she sees a flirty sketch he makes of her. Soon, the lecherous owner of the Moulin Rouge, Zidler recruits Nathalie as a can-can dancer, and Toulouse-Lautrec takes Matthew under his wing as a painting apprentice and drinking buddy. Things spin (or perhaps, pirouette) out of control and the two lovers find themselves in a matter of life and death. “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet,” was a resounding success. The ballet followed classical ballet form, with the addition of a few tangos for some modern pizzazz. Jorden Morris’ choreography was playful, passionate and tragic all at once. A dancing-off between Nathalie and the Queen of Montmatre, La Goulue, roused the audience to applause, as did the show’s ever-popular rendition of the Can-Can. The romantic pas de deux performed by Matthew and Nathalie on a starlit bridge served as one of the show’s most emotional scenes. Morris’ choreography made use of a lot of props, but rather than detracting from the ballet, it added another element. Lautrec and Matthew make a hilarious team with the help of their props-they engage in paintbrush duels on rolling easels and become absorbed in absinthe-doused delirium as they dance with a trio of green fairies. Anne Armit and Sharon Lovelace created gorgeous costumes for the show. Gathering inspiration from Lautrec’s original paintings, the designers made whimsical, flowing, colorful and fantastic clothing for the dancers. The costumes truly told stories about each of the characters, granting them a chance for characterization without words. Zidler’s costumes were instantly recognizable, oozing with dark and sinister fabric and coloring. In contrast, Nathalie’s costumes exuded an aura of innocence with very light-colors. The stars of “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet,” Vanessa Lawson and Gael Lambiotte (Nathalie and Matthew, respectively) shine on stage, and their characters passion for each other transcends the fourth wall of the stage. The other principal dancers in the show, Yosuke Mino (Lautrec), Jamie Vargas (Zidler) and Jo-Ann Sundermeier (La Goulue), held their own against the stars and delivered skilled performances-especially Sundermeier, who channeled La Goulue’s spunk and spirit to a tee. The only complaint heard after the show’s end was that it was not as raunchy as some thought it might be. The cure? Perhaps another glass of absinthe. However, despite the minor grievances, the audience floated out of the theater in high spirits after “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet.” There were more than a few groups of young people posing for pictures outside the auditorium in faux-ballet positions. And that might just be the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s best impression upon Minnesota during their visit-inspiring a new generation of dancers.