National Arts Centre


February 1 – 3, 2024

National Arts Centre


February 1 – 3, 2024

Angels' Atlas and Emma Bovary

Angels’ Atlas


Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite created Angels’ Atlas for The National Ballet of Canada in February 2020 to rapturous reviews. The ballet unfolds against a morphing wall of light that carries the illusion of depth and a sense of the natural world. Here, the dancing body becomes a sign of humanity’s impermanence and – equally – its vitality within a vast, unknowable world.

Set to original music by Owen Belton and choral pieces by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Morten Lauridsen, Angels’ Atlas is a profound work from one of the world’s leading contemporary choreographers.

Five Things to Know
  1. 1The impetus for Angels’ Atlas came from Crystal Pite’s partner and set designer Jay Gower Taylor who worked with lighting designer Tom Visser to develop an analog method of manipulating reflective light to create complex, painterly images. 
  2. 2A quote from writer and critic Max Wyman about dance greatly inspired Pite: “No other artform speaks so directly about the fragile, temporary quality of life, or about the human instinct to transcend those bonds and aim for that perfect moment of self-realization.”
  3. 3Pite wanted Angels’ Atlas to evoke “a fierce pulse of life.” She achieves this in part through the score, which includes electronic music by her longtime collaborator Owen Belton featuring samples of clicking sounds, voices, bells and a heartbeat.
  4. 4Two ethereal choral works bookend Belton’s score: Tchaikovsky’s liturgical Hymn of the Cherubim and Morten Lauridsen’s contemporary work, O Magnum Mysterium. Pite chose vocal works in part because they are tied so irrevocably to the body.
  5. 5Angels’ Atlas won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards in 2020: Crystal Pite for Outstanding New Choreography and Jay Gower Taylor for Outstanding Achievement in Design.
Watch and Learn 

Angels’ Atlas Trailer

Angels’ Atlas View Gallery

The Choreographer

A former dancer with Ballet British Columbia and Ballett Frankfurt under William Forsythe, Crystal Pite is now a leading contemporary choreographer. She is Associate Choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater, Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre and Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells, London. Her company, Kidd Pivot, performs her original creations around the world. 

The Composers

Canadian composer Owen Belton incorporates a range of acoustic and electronic instruments in his music together with found or common sounds. His many scores for dance have been performed by Kidd Pivot, Ballett Frankfurt and Nederlands Dans Theater, among others. Belton also performs as a singer-songwriter with the band Lost Hombre.

Morten Lauridsen is an American composer of choral music, former Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (1994 – 2001) and professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. In 2007, he received the National Medal of Arts for “radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power and spiritual depth.”

The late 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky created some of the most popular works in the classical repertoire, particularly his three full-length scores for ballet: Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His body of work includes full-length operas, multiple symphonies and concertos.

Read More

A Note from Crystal Pite

Five Things About Crystal Pite


“Human yearning is evoked powerfully onstage… Crystal Pite has a gift for bringing out the very best in dancers.” — Toronto Star

“A glimpse into the infinite... Angels’ Atlas explores the human condition to rapturous choral music and ingenious lighting design.” — The Globe and Mail

“Pite has created another masterpiece.” —  Ludwig Van Toronto

Emma Bovary


The world premiere of Emma Bovary marks an exciting first partnership between The National Ballet of Canada and award-winning choreographer, director and dancer, Helen Pickett. Pickett combines a striking physical vocabulary with sensitivity to the human condition, and she is breaking new ground in narrative ballet. Emma Bovary is a psychological exploration of the lead character from Gustave Flaubert’s 19th-century novel, Madame Bovary, his influential depiction of a young woman disillusioned by life.

Emma Bovary Trailer

Things to Know
  1. 1This world premiere follows the success of Pickett’s full-length work for Scottish Ballet The Crucible, based on Arthur Miller’s play. The Crucible won a Critics’ Circle Theatre Award and the Herald Angel Award for Choreography in the UK in 2019. For Emma Bovary, Pickett partners with award-winning opera and theatre director James Bonas, as co-director and co-treatment writer. They first worked together on The Crucible and this marks their third collaboration.
  2. 2Emma Bovary does not tell the story of Flaubert’s novel. Rather, it dives into the complex psychology of the title character, a young woman whose attachment to romantic ideals disconnects her from reality, leading to her demise.
  3. 3Pickett has commissioned an original score from Peter Salem, whose work includes award-winning music for the British television series, Call the Midwife. Salem also composed the music for Pickett’s ballet The Crucible.
  4. 4The creative team includes Canadians Bonnie Beecher for lighting design and Michael Gianfrancesco for sets and costumes. They are joined by production designer Anouar Brissel and animator Grégoire Pont, who studied Norman McLaren’s techniques of animation dynamics.
  5. 5This commission is an extension of Hope Muir’s creative relationship with Pickett, having worked on no less than five productions together in Scotland and the US.
Watch and Explore

Exploring Emma: Helen Pickett and James Bonas on Creating Emma Bovary

Building the World of Emma Bovary

Emma Bovary Production View Gallery

Read Feature With Helen Pickett and James Bonas on Creating Emma Bovary

Who's Who

Emma is a young idealistic woman of ambition and dreams, who yearns for something more than her life and marriage offers her.

Charles, Emma’s husband, is a country doctor who adores his wife but bores her, never truly seeing or challenging Emma.

Madame Bovary, Emma’s mother-in-law, is protective of her son and determined to keep the family together.

Lheureux, a skillful salesman of fancy goods who entices Emma into spending far beyond her means.

Rodolphe, Emma’s lover, is a wealthy local man who is a charming and charismatic serial seducer.

The Creator

Born in California, Helen Pickett spent over a decade at Frankfurt Ballet under the direction of William Forsythe and is trained in method acting, somatic techniques and film. Pickett has worked as an actress with the Wooster Group in New York City and created more than 60 works internationally, including her award-winning ballets The Crucible, Camino Real and The Exiled. Pickett was Resident Choreographer of Atlanta Ballet from 2012 to 2017, received her MFA from Hollins University and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Her recent commissions internationally include American Ballet Theatre, Het Nationale Ballet and Boston Ballet.

The Composer

Peter Salem is in high demand as a composer for contemporary ballet, film and television. He has collaborated previously with choreographer Helen Pickett on The Crucible and Camino Real and he has worked with such companies as Hong Kong National Ballet and English National Ballet. Salem composed the award-winning music for the popular BBC television programs Call the Midwife, Cider with Rosie and Five Daughters.


“Pickett is a genius when it comes to articulating emotion through gesture… Opening night’s Emma was the revelatory and daring Hannah Galway…” – The Globe and Mail

Emma Bovary concludes powerfully, leaving a lasting impression and bringing this classic literary character to life. Every detail contributes to the meticulous and thoughtful storytelling. The gorgeous dancing from the company brought together with a haunting score and exquisite design elements, is not to be missed.” – The Dance Debrief

“Every creative choice, from choreography and costuming to lighting and music has purpose and feels intentional in the hands of this gifted creative team. The result is a feast for the senses… Emma Bovary is a masterpiece.” – My Entertainment World

Acclaim for Helen Pickett:

“Pickett is a contemporary ballet choreographer of substance, with deep convictions, an effervescent sense of humour and a wide-ranging intellect.” – Dance International

“Helen Pickett seals her reputation as a masterful creator of narrative ballet” – The Review Hub


Angels’ Atlas

Crystal Pite

Original Music:
Owen Belton

Additional Music:
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Opus 41, No. 6: Cherubic Hymn
Morten Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium

Reflective Light Backdrop Concept:
Jay Gower Taylor

Reflective Light Backdrop Design:
Jay Gower Taylor and Tom Visser

Lighting Design:
Tom Visser

Costume Design:
Nancy Bryant

Assistant to the Choreographer:
Spencer Dickhaus

Premiere: The National Ballet of Canada, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, February 29, 2020

Produced and commissioned by The National Ballet of Canada.

A co-production of The National Ballet of Canada and Ballett Zürich.

Philanthropic support for Angels’ Atlas is generously provided by An Anonymous Donor, Rosamond Ivey, Ira Gluskin & Maxine Granovsky Gluskin, The Producers’ Circle, The Volunteer Committee of The National Ballet of Canada and The Gail Hutchison Fund.

Emma Bovary

Helen Pickett

James Bonas & Helen Pickett

Treatment by:
Helen Pickett & James Bonas

Music and Sound:
Peter Salem

Set and Costume Design:
Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting Design:
Bonnie Beecher

Grégoire Pont

Projection Design:
Anouar Brissel

World Premiere: The National Ballet of Canada, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, November 10, 2023

Produced and Commissioned by The National Ballet of Canada.

Lead philanthropic support for Emma Bovary is provided by The Anna McCowan-Johnson New Creations Fund and The Producers’ Circle and with generous underwriting by the Sabourin Family Foundation.   

The Producers’ Circle (2023): Gail & Mark Appel, John & Claudine Bailey, Inger Bartlett & Marshal Stearns, Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, Gail Drummond & Bob Dorrance, Ira Gluskin & Maxine Granovsky Gluskin, The William & Nona Heaslip Foundation, Anna McCowan-Johnson & Donald K. Johnson, O.C., Judy Korthals & Peter Irwin, Mona & Harvey Levenstein, Jerry Lozinski, O.C. & Joan Lozinski, O.C., The Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain, C.C., Julie Medland, Sandra Pitblado, C.M. & Jim Pitblado, C.M., The Harry & Lillian Seymour Family Foundation and The Jack Weinbaum Family Foundation.

The company’s Canadian tours are made possible with the generous support of The John and Margaret Bahen Fund of The National Ballet of Canada, Endowment Foundation. 

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