Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Feeling Her Pain: Emma Bovary at the National Ballet of Canada

Hannah Galway and Siphesihle November in Emma Bovary. (Photo: Karolina Kuras/Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada)

Emma Bovary ran at Toronto’s Four Season’s Centre from November 11-18.

In the promo video the National Ballet of Canada put out in advance of the world premiere of Emma Bovary, choreographer Helen Pickett says that her intention was to get the audience to understand what the titular character – one of the greatest female creations in all of literature – is feeling. That undersells it.

A triumph of dance-theatre where every gesture is loaded with narrative meaning, Emma Bovary has more to do with how we feel while watching it. Much like Gustave Flaubert’s original mid-19th-century realist novel, the experience is vividly complex. We are riveted, repulsed, seduced, astonished, amused, horrified and ultimately sympathetic. Gratification is also part of the emotional mix. Together with her collaborator, the English theatre and opera director James Bonas, the California-born Pickett – a former Ballet Frankfurt dancer who has choreographed more than 60 works – has created an ultra-physical narrative ballet so potent it grabs you at your core.