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The Actress.

Inspired by and created for the National Ballet of Canada's senior ballerina, Karen Kain, The Actress is about a great ballerina but also about all performers, as its generic title suggests. In particular, this latest work by choreographer James Kudelka explores the fine line such artists walk between illusion and reality and how difficult it is to forge a strong sense of self in a profession obsessed with role playing.

In his enthusiastically received bio-ballet, Kudelka, the troupe's artist-in-residence, deftly describes the duality of his central character with help from Santo Loquasto's two-part set: A dressing room is the dancer's retreat; it is here that she powders her nose, fidgets with her costume, and plays coquettish hostess to a long line of gentleman callers, all of whom want a piece of her tulle. The playing area is where she pours out her art to a series of twenty-four lyrical piano pieces by Chopin: pas de deux, ensemble pieces, and lastly an exultant and self-expressive solo that ultimately shows the dancer becoming one with the dance.

Kudelka's choreography in these segments is particularly forceful, combining quotations from ballets in the classical repertoire with his signature dramatic lyricism. The pastiche of pure dance sequences and narrative passages gives The Actress a varied texture both in terms of style and emotional character. Sometimes melancholy and sometimes funny, the ballet describes life as a dance of many subtle colors.

As the dancer commanding the stage for all of the ballet's forty-eight minutes, Kain gives her role depth, humor, and palpable sexuality. What's more, she infuses the whole with a bittersweet quality, the result of her real-life experience as an aging ballerina.

Forty-three years old, La Kain is a mature performer who, like many in their prime, is losing her grip on an infallible technique just as her maturity as an artist is peaking. This poignant aspect of her own relationship with the role-versus-reality world of her profession is tenderly captured by Kudelka. Perhaps the most telling moment occurs toward the end when Kain, a little tipsy and bleary-eyed, is transfixed by the sparkling image of a younger ballerina (Chan Hon Goh) at center stage. On the one hand, this dazzling dancer in the spotlight represents Kain in her youth, all coltish energy and determination; on the other, it connotes the blinding ideal of Kain's art that enthralls her (and us) to the end.

Kain gives the impression that she has a love-hate relationship with her profession, one that demands perfection though she herself is as fallible as the rest--prone to excess and reckless in love. At times she seems ready to chuck it. But as long as the music plays, Kain plays along with it, a vivid symbol of the self as its own work of art.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:O'Keefe Centre, Toronto, Canada
Author:Kelly, Deidre
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
Words:463
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Next Article:Joe Layton.
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