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(photo credit: Roland Lorente)
Fifty-two years ago, a young woman named Ludmilla Chiariaeff spotted a hole in Canada's cultural core. Canada's thriving metropolis of Montreal was in dire need of a classical dance company. So in 1957, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens De Montreal was founded.
In the past half-century, the troupe has firmly affixed itself in Canada's spotlight. Thirty-five dancers now call GBCM's deluxe Place Des Arts complex home. When the company is not working in Montreal, it is traveling around the globe, showcasing its formidable and diverse repertory to audiences from Halifax to Tokyo.
This June, the company will visit Israel for the first time as part of The Suzanne Dellal Center's 20th anniversary celebrations. The festivities have included performances by Idan Raichel, Ehud Banai and Balkan Beat Box, along with Barak Marshall's Monger and Company Nacional De Danza from Spain.
It cannot be taken for granted that a company as old as this one still manages to thrill and delight its fans. Very few dance groups have been around as long as GBCM. The select companies that have celebrated 50 years or more struggle to keep their work current. However, GBCM is considered to be an envelope pusher in the ballet world.
The man to be thanked for this achievement is artistic director Gradimir Pankov. Since taking over the reins in 2000, Pankov has breathed new life into the establishment at every turn. His connections in the international dance community are enviable, his keen eye undeniable. Now entering his 10th season with GBCM, Pankov has kept his finger on the pulse, propelling the troupe into a new realm of fame.
Pankov is a native of Macedonia. He was trained as both a dancer and a teacher, two jobs he would excel at later in life. He established himself as a performer, working with dance troupes in Yugoslavia and Germany. "I'm from Macedonia. It's the end of the world," he said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. "I never thought I would arrive where I am now. It's been a very nice journey."
From dancing, Pankov went on to become artistic director of several renowned companies around Europe such as Netherlands Dance Theater II, Cullberg Ballet of Sweden and The National Ballet of Finland. Pankov even spent a time teaching the Batsheva Dance Company in 1999. It was during this period in his life that he met the choreographers he would later call on to create works for GBCM.
LES GRANDS Ballets Canadiens De Montreal is a repertory company. Its playlist is a who's who of virtuoso choreographers. Jiri Kylian, Matts Ek and Israel's own Ohad Naharin are among those whom Pankov has personally invited to set pieces on his flawless dancers. And while Les Grands Ballets is a ballet company, its repertory reflects an experimental spirit.
Since the very beginning of its existence, the company has had a flare for the avant garde. In 1970, Les Grands Ballets produced a ballet version of the rock musical Tommy. Pankov explained that when choosing which choreographers to bring, above all, he has to consider the abilities of his dancers. "I look at my dancers and try to build the repertory around them. Sometimes you can bring the best choreographer, and if you don't have the dancers to execute [the piece], it won't turn out well. The result has been quite good," he said.
The company will perform two works during its stay in Israel: Noces by Stijn Celis and Cantata by Mauro Bigonzetti. Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis's work has been seen on stages in Israel in the past, most recently the solo Magnolia executed by Tel Aviv's own Talia Paz. Noces, meaning "wedding ceremony," is a piece for 24 dancers set to Igor Stravinsky's 1923 score. Celis's version places the ritual somewhere in the Balkans, perhaps Pankov's own Macedonia. The dancers, half men and half women, portray a joyous and enthusiastic war of the sexes.
Meanwhile, Italy's Bigonzetti brings the cast of Les Grands Ballets to the Mediterranean. Set to traditional Italian music, Cantata depicts the world of emotion that exists between lovers. The juxtaposition of these two works in one evening makes for a must-see.
The company will perform June 1 and 2 as part of The Big Stage 20th anniversary celebrations at The Suzanne Dellal Center and in conjunction with the Israel Festival. For tickets, call: (03) 510-5656 or visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.