Ballet BC’s "Program 1" uses shadows, lights and inventive choreography to explore emotions and memories

Company dancers combine first-rate ballet technique and contemporary style to draw us into their sophisticated world of storytelling.

Ballet BC raised the curtain on its 2016/2017 season last night, with the sophisticated Program 1. This brilliantly creative and well-danced collection of contemporary ballet pieces explores time, space, memory, and the emotions we remember from relationships. Entirely choreographed by Ballet BC’s resident choreographer Cayetano Soto, all four pieces paint contrasting illustrations ranging from the sensual darkness of Beginning After, to the playful World War-era inspired European glamour of Schachmatt. Above all, Program 1 is a masterful display of exceptional ballet technique and contemporary movement from a world-class company.

Here are the pieces featured in Program 1

Beginning After

During the opening sequence, a quote projected onto the backdrop reads, “Sometimes truth differs from memory”. The entire piece, told through pas de deux work between a number of very well-matched couples is like one long dream sequence, where you can’t remember how one section ends and how the next begins. This is because as the action of each section seems to change, the lights abruptly black out. When the lights return, we find ourselves already in the midst of a new phrase, often with a different set of dancers in entirely new spacing.

Uniformly costumed in sleek metallic-looking bodysuits with white dots, each couple tells a different story. Some couples seem to resist each other with contrasting movements. Other couples, such as the all-male couple, are so strikingly similar in body type, lines and style that it’s hauntingly eerie yet beautiful at the same time.

The movements are exceedingly pleasing to the eye. Rigid, sharp abstract movements melt into flowing, divine dance. The partnering is exceptional, with some gorgeous lifts and inventive partnering. Choreographic phrases often suspend time and space as dancers hit exquisite arabesques or extend their legs into seconde position. Standout dancers in the piece include Peter Smida with his long, masculine lines, and Kirsten Wicklund with her amazing extensions and wonderful interpretation of the choreography.

As the piece ends, one couple remains onstage. The female stands frozen while the male frantically carries on. It’s an interesting statement on the lifeline of relationships and how we capture them in our memories.

Fugaz

This piece was heavily inspired by the death of choreographer Cayetano Soto’s father. As the piece begins, four females stand onstage. Their movements are characterized by intentional tension and release. Dancing to music composed by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann, the choreography interprets the piano line within the collective harmonies of instruments in the music.

The intense choreography matches the rising tension in the music, and eventually Christoph von Riedemann and Peter Smida appear as what can be interpreted as angels of death. They each prey upon a female dancer and infiltrate her choreographic interpretation of the music.

There are some interesting choreographic elements at play here, such as a female dancer trying to take steps while lying on her back, resulting in her feet walking up the body of her partner. Her partner eventually helps her back onto her feet.

Meanwhile, the male partner of another couple steals his partner’s ability to speak, as demonstrated by movements where he closes off her throat.

The costuming of the male dancers leaves something to be desired. Their baggy, all-black costumes do not accentuate their bodies or lines. However, the piece is quite compelling and the lasting image of the two female dancers rolling their bodies upstage while their angels of death follow them is indeed haunting.

Sortijas

Alexis Fletcher and Scott Fowler.JPG

This is a beautiful piece featuring a beautiful couple. Danced by Alexis Fletcher and Scott Fowler, this Latin-inspired piece, set to music sung by Lhasa, is perhaps positioned as a past memory of a relationship. The program’s description “Even if we wanted to, it is impossible to change fate as it has already been written”, explains the abrupt black out near the beginning of the piece – because when the lights return, it feels as though we are watching a retelling of a story.

The choreography in this piece is characterized by a determination to capture every note of music at all costs by utilizing every limb of the body. Whether it’s a finger movement, or a bend of a knee while lying on one’s stomach, there’s a curious mission here to take advantage of every musical opportunity. Even at the end of the piece, when the music has concluded, the dancers carry-on, with Fletcher’s breath serving as the percussive rhythm they follow.

Fletcher and Fowler dance together with sensual passion and leave the audience hungry for more as the lights dim.

Schachmatt

This grand finale to Program 1 is a rousing, delightful artistic showpiece. The dance starts off with the wonderful vision of the ensemble’s silhouettes accentuated against James Proudfoot’s glamourous lighting.

Dressed in very cute World War 2-era army/navy costumes, the dancers groove their way through Soto’s Fosse-inspired choreography, with very strong shades of “Rich Man’s Frug” from Sweet Charity. The musical selection with vocals are in French, helping to give the piece a European vibe. Humour is everywhere in this piece. For example, the movements, especially the ends and beginnings of sections overflow with melodramatic, almost cartoon-like characterization – reminiscent of silent movies.

Like the opening piece, Beginning After, the costuming is uniform for both the male and female dancers, which allow for some fun intermingling with the genders in certain sections, such as when Gilbert Small pops out of an ensemble of female dancers and bursts into his entertaining solo.

The female dancers display beautiful feminine qualities in this piece and great control throughout when they extend their legs in seconde position, sometimes to allow for other dancers to run underneath their legs. The male dancers are very sexy, displaying fantastic masculine, athletic skills and brilliant style. Near the end of the piece, two male dancers hit arabesque lines that are stunningly impressive.

The piece inventively concludes with one dancer taking off his hat and bowing his head towards the stage before exiting, reminiscent of Fosse’s “Mr. Bojangles” piece.

Ballet BC's Program 1 runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until November 5. Visit Ballet BC's website for ticket information.