I recently underwent my ballet baptism at the premiere of Vendetta, the latest creation by Les Grands Ballets. I walked into the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier totally illiterate with my mind made up about dance, and with expectations corresponding more or less to those any novice would have: tutus, classical music, The Nutcracker... But I had something else coming!
The curtain went up on a story straight out of a gangster movie: three Sicilian mafia clans in Chicago rub shoulders, come into conflict, join forces, betray one other, make peace, betray one another again, make peace again. Not a single cliché is left out: drug trafficking, a big and boisterous wedding, bloody revenge, even a pasta dinner around the family table.
Whereas the impressive two-hour performance was punctuated by a handful of furious solos, it was the group sequences that gave meaning to the word spectacular. There’s something powerful about watching 20 plus dancers wrapped in costumes, looking like they escaped from the “Smooth Criminal” video, swirling in unison in a tangle of choreographed gestures, all of this set to a soundtrack that ranges from Frank Sinatra to minimalist electronica.
Pretty quickly the intention becomes clear: the story is an excuse for dancing. Contemporary ballet remains above all a language, a lexicon of gestures, postures and movements that make the need for spoken language obsolete. The nonverbal vocabulary is rich enough to project dialogue among the characters. In that sense,Vendetta blithely captures the essence of the blood-drenched narratives of the mobs and, through its staunchly kitsch theme, we find the timelessness of body language transcending every cliché.