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Inside The National Ballet of Canada's Mad Hot Ballet: Garden of Jewels Gala

Photo of Tina Pereira.

What a fabulous season it has been at The National Ballet of Canada. This year marked my first time attending their annual fundraising gala, themed as a summer garden party, titled Garden of Jewels. This Mad Hot Ballet gala was an absolutely delightful way to cap off the season and to continue supporting The National Ballet of Canada.

Entering the Four Seasons Centre felt like stepping into the Met Gala, with everyone dressed to the nines and showcasing unique and playful outfits that embraced the theme. My favorite of the night was principal dancer Harrison James, who looked stunning in a dark blue full, floor-length skirt with a matching vest designed by shelli oh. It was also announced that day that James would be splitting his time next season as a principal dancer at both The National Ballet of Canada and the San Francisco Ballet—bravo, James, on this well-deserved achievement. Seeing many dancers, like James, up close and personal in their finest attire at the gala, rather than on stage in their tutus, tights, and pointe shoes, was a refreshing and fun experience.

The gala featured an hour-long performance with excerpts from Jewels, the final work of the season, which opens this Saturday. The company showcased highlights from each act: Heather Ogden performed a solo from Emeralds, Brenna Flaherty and Noah Parets presented a pas de deux from Rubies, and the full company, led by Genevieve Penn Nabity and Christopher Gerty, performed selections from Diamonds. This neoclassical ballet appears classical with a strong emphasis on technique but incorporates more modern and abstract choreography, keeping you on your toes as Balanchine intended. The performance also featured a pas de deux from the sold-out run of the new Don Quixote by Carlos Acosta, danced by Jurgita Dronina and Larkin Miller.

Desperate Drama of Red costumes. Designed by Nikki Yassemi @narcesofficial. Choreographed by Alyssa Martin. Photo from https://www.instagram.com/nationalballetwardrobe

Interspersed between these pieces, and scattered around the lobby, were segments of a new dramatic work titled Desperate Drama of Red by Toronto choreographer Alyssa Martin, danced by Spencer Hack, Hannah Galway, and Alexander Skinner. I am a big fan of Alyssa Martin’s choreography, which is incredibly unique, campy, humorous, and technical. The dancers donned fierce costumes, designed by NARCESNikki Yassemi, pictured above. Her unconventional work breaks up the classical pieces in a unique way, showcasing the breadth of what the company can do and their openness to new challenges.

Following the performance, attendees were welcomed to a cocktail reception spread across all four floors of the venue, full of food, drinks, and fun activities such as photo booths and custom-made corsages and boutonnieres. I attended with my longtime friend Rachel Kennedy, now Executive Director of the Toronto Fringe Festival, pictured here from the fabulous Pandora photobooth.

Rachel Kennedy and Deanne Kearney at the Pandora Photobooth.

The gala is a perfect time to reflect on the past season and the wonderful company. Outside of reviewing The National Ballet of Canada’s works, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the company as I am entering my final year of my Ph.D. at York University in Theatre, Dance, and Performance. My dissertation focuses on a pivotal era of The National Ballet of Canada—the Nureyev era. In short, in 1972, The National Ballet of Canada was on the verge of bankruptcy following the creation of an expensive production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Russian defector and internationally renowned dancer Rudolf Nureyev. This moment was crucial in the company’s history and set the stage for its international reputation. It showcased the importance of donors, as members of The National Ballet of Canada’s board mortgaged their houses to fund the ballet, seeing Nureyev’s contributions as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am researching the long term impact of this event on the company with a special focus on arts funding. I can say that today, the company is internationally renowned, continuing to showcase Canadian talent worldwide as next season they will travel to London and Paris.

Thank you to The National Ballet of Canada for a wonderful season. It was such a pleasure to attend and see this company shine. I love Hope Muir’s direction in promoting Canadian artists, challenging its dancers with demanding works, and bringing back classics for all to enjoy. There is one more performance this season, Balanchine’s Jewels, which I highly recommend attending. After that, there will be a five-month wait until the company returns in November. Next season will be significant as we say goodbye to Guillaume Côté and welcome wonderful classical works like Swan Lake and Giselle. If you are able, please donate to the company and continue to support the wonderful Canadian arts sector.

MAD HOT BALLET: Garden of Jewels, presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5H 4G1) was a one night event on June 11, 2024. Make sure to catch it again next year!

National.Ballet.ca | Socials: @nationalballet

Written by Deanne Kearney | DeanneKearney.com @deannekearney