May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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Dancing days are here again: Ballet Jorgen comes to London town

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

After a long season of performing, Ballet Jorgen Canada is ending its tour with a bang here in the Forest City.

Coppelia, a classic comedy about mistaken identity, love and toys, will be performed tonight at the Grand Theatre. Based on “The Sandman,” a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Coppelia is a classic comedy about Nathaniel, a young man who spurns his lover in favour of a mysterious young woman named Coppelia. Coppelia, however, is actually a living doll created by the toymaker Dr. Coppelius (Craig Sanok), and all sorts of wacky complications arise.

Though Coppelia is a staple of ballet companies around the world, this version of the story is very much the creation of Bengt Jorgen, the artistic director and founder of Ballet Jorgen Canada. Jorgen created entirely original choreography for this show. According to the performers, this personal touch streamlines the creative process.

“It’s a lot easier to do stuff, and it’s tailor-made to you individually, instead of learning everything through notations,” says Angel Wong, who plays Coppelia. Dan King, who plays Nathaniel, adds that when a performer works with a choreographer, “you get to know what he exactly wants, instead of hearing it from a third party.”

Hoffmann’s original story is a classic of gothic horror, but the popularity of the ballet over the years has come from its use of comedy and fantasy in order to tell the rather dark tale. According to Wong, “Bengt didn’t want it as dark as the story. He wanted for kids to be able to come as well.”

The London show marks the end of a grueling tour schedule that would make even the Dave Matthews Band blanch. Since beginning their season last October, the Jorgen Ballet has traveled everywhere from Los Angeles to Gander, Newfoundland, with little rest in between. King, who has performed for companies in Ireland and Germany, says that being a member of the Ballet Jorgen is “a lot more work than I’m used to in terms of performances.”

Between the shows and the travel, the dancers also have an intensive practice schedule. According to King, the average day for a member of the Jorgen Ballet includes anywhere between three and seven hours of rehearsal.

“Class is like brushing your teeth,” says Wong. “You have to do it every day or else your body rots. I started when I was three, so I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

“It’s like being a professional athlete. You train just as much, and you work just as hard, but you have to mask it for the audience as part of your performance. When you see a sprinter or something, you can see the strain on their face as they run. People think that ballet is ‘lah-di-da’ only because we make it look easy.”

Coppelia is particularly difficult for Wong and King, who play the lead characters. “It’s really challenging for us because we’re on the whole time,” says Wong. “Between that and the choreography, it’s hard to do... the way Bengt wants us to move is in a cubist form, so everything is a bit awkward on purpose.”

Just like university students, the dancers get the summer off, although it spent rehearsing and preparing next year’s shows. The company is already scheduled to return to London next May for a performance of Cinderella, another Jorgen original.



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