With well structured movements, sometimes in unison, a group of five dancers dressed in white move across the stage creating powerful visuals in Black Milk. Photo: Yailin Alfaro

Les grands ballets canadiens arrived to the 25th International Ballet Festival with the piece Black Milk, a magnificent choreography to introduce this company which, under the management of current director, Gradimir Pankov, has moved from classical ballet to contemporary dance.
It might seem like a contradiction that Pankov, a Yugoslav, as he described himself in Havana, trained in the Russian school of ballet, would abandon the classical form.
For him however, the reason was simple, “With 34 dancers we couldn’t do the great classics. My idea was to have good dancers with a classic base and create a unique repertory, so as not to be compared with other companies.”

Black Milk, an astonishing work, full of emotion, was a good first piece to show another style, a different way of dancing, with new concepts. Only five dancers on stage performing a powerful and complex, creative and innovative choreography, whose perfect interpretation by dancers was certainly able to move spectators.

The work is a 15-minute fragment of a much loner piece entitled Minus One, by outstanding choreographer Ohad Naharin, from Israel, invited to participate in the festival by Les grands ballets.

Pankov had the courtesy to explain for our readers the idea behind the title: “Naharin took the idea from a Dead Sea ritual, where people suffering from health problems go to cleanse their entire body. It’s the black spot ritual, which is why the dancers paint their faces, bodies, in this case in search of spiritual health from nature.”

According to Pankov, a ballet with a story is regarded somewhat negatively nowadays, but he disagrees. “I believe that contemporary choreography should not only have human movements, but also refer to a story. It doesn’t mean that the choreography has to say something, but that you’ve got to be able to appreciate the story through the movements, if not, something’s wrong, either the choreography itself or the way it’s preformed by the dancers.”

Gradimir Pankov, artistic director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, announced that he will retire in 2017. Photo:

In his search for an original repertory reflecting different contemporary dance trends, Pankov has commissioned works by prominent choreographers from different countries as well as Canada, such as Peter Quanz, a familiar name to followers of the Ballet Festival and National Ballet of Cuba (BNC).

Quanz has created three pieces for Alicia Alonso’s BNC, the classical Le Papillon, a tribute to the extraordinary prima ballerina assoluta; the outstanding Luminous and Double Bounce pas de deux, both with a different expressive language.

There exists another link between the Canadian and Cuban companies, as Pankov recalls. In his desire to ensure that the public is still able to see works of classical ballet, every season he invites at least one company to perform; for example the Houston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and on two occasions the National Ballet of Cuba, which presented Giselle and Don Quixote.

Gradimir Pankov noted that he was happy to be in Havana participating in a Festival organized by Alicia Alonso. “Although we’re not a classical company we didn’t want to miss this opportunity, and I also thought that the public would appreciate seeing a different kind of choreography.” He was right, the rapturous applause Black Milk elicited, proved so.