Orpheus dances into Calgary

By Daorcey Le Bray

Like the vast majority of people, it’s quite possible that the bulk of your ballet experience involves a two-dollar viewing of Billy Elliott after being hauled to the film by someone considerably more sentimental than yourself. Before that, you pronounced the “t.”

To James “Rusty” Toth, dancer with Ballet British Columbia, the lack of experience is understandable, but he’s sure that his company’s touring production of Orpheus will appeal to a wider and younger audience than a traditional ballet. He’s quick to point out the show, based on the legendary Greek musician of the same name, is not the average Swan Lake.

“[Orpheus] is always moving. It always continues, and there are no real stale moments that you can find in older, classical works,” says Toth. Unlike other ballets, “there are not any mime scenesâ€| not ten minutes of people walking around in beautiful ball gowns.”

Toth dances as part of the three-headed dog, Cerberus, and guards the path to and from the chaotic realm of the dead. Orpheus, armed with a golden lyre, must pass into the underworld to rescue his murdered bride. Although he is able to convince Hades to allow the escape, the God of the Underworld places his own condition on the contract–Orpheus must not look back upon his lover or else she will be lost forever.

As a dancer, Toth is enthused about the challenges presented by this full-length production. He describes the show, with it’s original score based on the classical operas of Christoph Willibald von Gluck, as “the art form of ballet…| outside of the box.”

“You are not locked into the classical form,” says Toth. He praises Artistic Director John Alleyne for his development of a production that is subtly contemporary and allows for greater freedom of movement. “It’s all motivated by dance.”

Orpheus marks an important milestone for Ballet British Columbia. Since its inception in 1986, this is the company’s second full-length work, which elevates its status in the artistic marketplace. According to Toth, many established and traditional theatre companies cannot afford to pull off two full-lengths in two years, which his company has just achieved.

“We’re growing by leaps and bounds as we go along,” says Toth with a twinge of unintentional irony, but he does laugh with appreciation at the success his internationally recognized company is achieving.

“It’s a very good thing!”

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