The National Ballet of Canada opened the Danse Danse festival season in Montreal with a triple bill of neoclassical works infused with minimalist European flavour. The pieces — The Second Detail (William Forsythe), Le Spectre de la Rose (Marco Goecke) and Chroma (Wayne McGregor) —hung together well and showed the company's virtuosity and technique to best advantage.

Jordana Daumec with Artists of the Ballet in <i>The Second Detail</i> © Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada
Jordana Daumec with Artists of the Ballet in The Second Detail
© Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada

The evening opened with William Forsythe's The Second Detail, set to an electronic score by Thom Willems. Now 20 years old, the work still looks box-fresh (the clinical row of chairs upstage is one of the few clues that this piece was made in 1991). Forsythe's work tends to have a wonderfully airy and timeless quality and The Second Detail provides plenty of material for the dancers to show off their virtuosity; with soaring grand jetés, expansive ports de bras and impossible extensions. The costumes were, aptly, on the minimalist side, with skin-tight grey leotards and tights reigning supreme. The only exception to this ubiquitous uniform was a soloist wearing an architectural white Issey Miyake concoction. Forsythe is often labelled an iconoclast, in that he routinely tears apart the structure of ballet as we know it and provides in its place a more subversive and interesting perspective of what the artform can offer. His choreography, populated with lean, slightly awkward shapes and deconstructed geometric compositions, asks a lot of the dancers in terms of articulation and snappiness, but the ensemble met it with clarity and finesse. "Ah, Forsythe," breathed my friend as we read over the season brochure together a few weeks ago. "Always an education." Quite right.

Spectre de la Rose, was created by Marco Goecke in 2009 to mark the centenary of Ballets Russes. It provided an idiosyncratic, almost audacious revision of Michel Fokine's 1911 piece by the same name. The ballet, originally inspired by Théophile Gautier's verse “I am the spirit of a rose you wore at the ball yesterday” (“Je suis le spectre d'une rose que tu portais hier au bal”) is set to Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance.

Guillaume Côté and Kathryn Hosier in <i>Spectre de la Rose</i>. © Jeremy Mimnagh, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada
Guillaume Côté and Kathryn Hosier in Spectre de la Rose.
© Jeremy Mimnagh, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada
The original seemed mostly a vehicle to show off Vaslav Nijinsky, who twirled about Tamara Karsavina in his now-famous petal-strewn tights before leaping out the window. Goecke's Spectre is a contemporary abstraction of the original, with the gestural insect-like movement vocabulary elbowing out the narrative for attention (although it must be said that the “narrative” was on the thin side to begin with). Here, an extra section has been added to the music, lengthening the piece significantly and giving ample room for a more active female presence plus some extra characters; six red-suited male dancers, whose collective role could be read variously as fleeting memories of heavy-breathing suitors from the ball, or compatriots of the spirit of the rose.

With her mobile hips and leggy extensions, Kathryn Hosier captures perfectly the heart-pounding exhilaration of youth and energy, while the eponymous role, danced by Dylan Tedaldi, is a quirky, bare-chested virtuoso with lightning-fast articulations. Both were impressive and gave the piece absolute commitment. Moreover, there was a sense of joy and excitement in this piece which made it more emotionally engaging than the at times mathematical detachment of Forsythe.

The third and final piece of the triple bill, Chroma, created by Wayne McGregor for the Royal Ballet in 2006 entered the repertoire of the National Ballet of Canada five years ago. It's a multi award-winning stunner of a piece by the celebrated rockstar of the neoclassical scene.

Tina Pereira and Robert Stephen in <i>Chroma</i>. © Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
Tina Pereira and Robert Stephen in Chroma.
© Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
Ten dancers dressed in androgynous nude tunics are bathed in blinding white light throughout, as they move against a clever monochromatic set (John Pawson). The music, by British composer Joby Talbot, weaves together songs by The White Stripes together with his own compositions. The choreography, which features open écartés, slightly contorted lines, birdlike movements, extreme fish dives, and robotic gestures picks apart the architecture of the human body and reduces it to a series of shapes and articulations. The movement is restrained and incredibly clean and punchy. The dancers deal well with McGregor's tight, precise choreography; their technique and timing almost immaculate. I was left wondering about McGregor. Is he an iconoclast, or something else entirely?

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion” said Edgar Allan Poe, and seeing the National Ballet of Canada's triple bill last night in all its spiky, fast-paced glory, I would have to agree. There was certainly a common thread and the pairing of Forsythe with McGregor made for an interesting compare/contrast exercise. If I had to nitpick, I would perhaps say that the works hung together almost too well — there was not a huge amount of variation to showcase the company's versatility in a variety of styles. I guess it gives us added incentive to catch the company next time they perform in La Belle Province. A very strong performance.