Review: The Dreamers Ever Leave You (National Ballet of Canada/Art Gallery of Ontario)

dreamers-ever-leave-you-660National Ballet of Canada and Art Gallery of Ontario collaborate on a fusion of dance and art

The Dreamers Ever Leave You is a contemporary ballet performed by dancers from the National Ballet of Canada. Choreographed by Robert Binet, the work premiered on August 31 as an accompaniment to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) current special exhibit of Lawren Harris paintings, The Idea of the North. In keeping with with the environment of the Signy Eaton Gallery at AGO, the piece is akin to a dance installation. Dancers perform on three mats and audience members are invited to move throughout the space.

Like many Canadians, Lawren Harris is my favourite Group of Seven painter. His iconic paintings of the arctic are entwined with our collective perception of the Canadian landscape, and national identity. There is a still, almost holy quality to Harris’ paintings, infused with passionate use of colour, and a deft understanding of the interplay of light and shadow. Dance, like art, must be viscerally experienced, rather than understood, and the choreography of The Dreamers Ever Leave You stunningly captured the atmosphere of Harris’ work.

Supple, fluid, stylized movement, light, neutral costumes, and subtle, low lighting that cast majestic shadows on the walls of the gallery united to bring the majesty, beauty, and sacredness of Harris’ iconic work to life through movement. Composer and Pianist Lubomyr Melnyk’s use of rocking, compound meter, with a counterpoint of descending arpeggios during the opening sequence was reminiscent of icicles, and the flow of a glacial stream. Most of the movement happened in solos or pairs, further illustrating themes of solitude, freedom, and intimacy that are a quintessential aspect of Canadian ideas of the North. The dance essentially painted Harris’ work on the bare gallery walls.

I took advantage of the opportunity to move around the space, which allowed me the opportunity to see and hear the performance from different angles, and focus more closely on the movement on one of the three, large, rectangular mats. Not all participants wanted to do this, and many chose to watch the performance from a fixed location. In a way, this mix of mobile and static bodies, became part of the performance.

Attendees have 45 minutes to interact with the performance, at which point gallery staff discretely invite audience members to exit from the back of the gallery, as a new group is ushered in from the front.

I highly recommend taking the time to see the Harris exhibit, Ideas of the North, before or after the performance. In addition to featuring a number of spectacular, iconic, artic paintings, the exhibit also includes a sizeable collection of early paintings of the portion of downtown Toronto that was then known as “The Ward” which extended from College to Queen streets, and from University to Yonge streets. The neighbourhood experienced a number of fascinating transitions during the 20th century, as different marginalized immigrant population flowed through the area, culminating in the building of the downtown core over top of their settlements. The exhibit featured photographs and historical information that provided an excellent factual context to the emotions of the performance.


  • The Dreamers Ever Leave You is playing until September 10 at Signy Eaton Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, (317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON )
  • Show times are September 8, 9, and 10 at 6:00, 6:45, & 7:30 PM
  • Tickets are $45 for National Ballet and AGO member, $55 for the general public.
  • Tickets are available online

Image provided by the National Ballet of Canada and Art Gallery of Ontario