It’s the end of the 17/18 season for most ballet companies and for many, this means rounding off with a glitzy gala night. I feel these performances always go in one of two directions: they’re either a Greatest Hits or a bit of a patchwork quilt. Which end of the spectrum the performances sit relies on a complex alchemy of repertoire choice, casting and personal taste.

Myriam Simon and Constantine Allen in <i>7e Symphonie</i> © Sasha Onyshchenko
Myriam Simon and Constantine Allen in 7e Symphonie
© Sasha Onyshchenko

For Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the end-of-season gala, Soirée des Étoiles, is presented over three nights, with guest soloists from top international ballet companies such as the National Ballet of Canada, the Boston Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba and le Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris.

60 children from the choir Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal also typically perform as part of the Soirée des Etoiles, along with young dancers from l'École supérieure de ballet du Québec. Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal are very cute with lovely voices, eliciting lots of oooohs and ahhhs from the programme-clutching ladies bunched around me. The choir was very good; they found some nice harmonies in Leonard Cohen classics and showed off a quick-draw move to pull out their song-books that was charming in the extreme. The dancers-in-training from l'École supérieure de ballet du Québec were also excellent: very carefully rehearsed with lovely technique and lines. I was impressed.

The dancers from Les Grands Ballets then took to the stage with Uwe Scholz’s Symphony No 7 (Second Movement). This piece demands knifepoint precision and rests on the creation of tightly structured patterns to pull together the overall effect. It’s triumphant, athletic. However, I’m fairly sure Symphony No 7 has been on the repertoire shelf since it was last performed last October. On opening night, some of the structure was a little loose, the lines frayed. It needed a better dust-off before its Soirée des Étoiles outing, but the dancers’ familiarity and ease with Scholz’s style put some sparkle in their step and salvaged the work. Les Grands Ballets dancers Tetyana Martyanova and Dane Holland shone in their solos.

Uwe Scholz’s choreography popped up again soon after, with Suite No. 2 by Rachmaninov. This cleanly-prised trio featured intricate partnering and was ably performed by Myriam Simon, Yann Lainé and Alessio Scognamiglia, all of Les Grands Ballets.

It wasn’t just an evening of Scholz though (although close to it). William Forsythe’s Herman Scherman provided a spot of elastic-limbed levity, and the story ballet section of the evening was amply filled out by an excerpt from Alicia Alonso’s Don Quixote. Now, I personally didn't love Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s Viengsay Valdes in the role. Some people adored it, and for sure she can pull out the fouettés and pirouettes crucial to this role. Usually the artistic challenge with Don Quixote is to stop the dancers getting too fancy and flicky, but I found myself actually craving a bit more flair than what was on offer here. On the upside, Valdes was partnered by Les Grands Ballets' Constantine Allen, who showed lithe grace, great technique and personality to boot. And the coda! Wonderful. 

After the intermission, we were treated to Kenneth MacMillan’s excellent bedroom pas de deux from Manon. Amandine Albisson, on loan from the Paris Opera, was divine. She had a gorgeous fluidity and musicality that the viewer could really lose themselves in.

Russian dancer Svetlana Lukina, guesting from the National Ballet of Canada, really brought the goods with her rendition of The Dying Swan. This is a piece that everyone has seen and has certain expectations of, so stakes are high. But with her emotional lyricism and endlessly flexible back, I don’t think anyone would come away feeling disappointed.

Artistic Director Ivan Cavallari then took us back to our Uwe Scholz-soaked beginnings, with Symphony No. 7 (First Movement). It was a neat and logical way to wrap up the programme.