Ballet BC opened its season this past week with Program 1, featuring three ballets with distinctly different styles. One of these ballets was an internationally acclaimed work from iconic choreographer William Forsythe. The second piece was a world premiere, set to the music of Jimi Hendrix. The third – and strongest – piece was a gorgeous remount of a ballet originally set on the company in 2011. It’s no surprise then that this piece, Petite Cérémonie, fits the company like a glove, and was likely the most memorable ballet of the night among audiences.
Overall, Program 1 was a great start to Ballet BC’s season, and dancer Patrick Kilbane stood out for his excellent showmanship in all three pieces. Kudos also to two members of Ballet BC’s Emerging Artist company, Miriam Gittens and Zenon Zubyk, who had featured moments in the show and nailed them.
Enemy in the Figure
Choreographer: William Forsythe
Enemy in the Figure is one of William Forsythe’s most innovative works, and it’s great to see his ingenuity interpreted by Ballet BC. The company works hard to do justice to Forsythe’s intricate and demanding (both physically and emotionally) work. Exceedingly quick and sharp, this piece is like a ticking time bomb with a constant sense of urgency, and Ballet BC demonstrated it had the hustle to deliver this piece.
When the curtain rises, we see a female dancer in a white leotard dancing and posing on the floor, stage left. She’s lit by a portable floodlight in front of her, and there’s another female dancer in black behind her, influencing the dancer in white’s movements. In the shadows of stage left, we see a figure in the dark dancing against a diagonal panel. A few moments later, we see another dark figure on the opposite side. In the centre of all this action, there’s a white panel placed across the stage – a wall entrapping the dancers.
Gradually, dancers hurry on stage, all in a frenzied state – some dressed in all white, others in all black. The choreography is frantic, and the company does a great job of rising to the challenge of tackling this frantic choreography, while still finishing moves and hitting the details. Parker Finley impresses with her strong athleticism. Brandon Alley does a great job of using the natural fluidity he has in his movement to adapt to Forsythe’s style. Alley is always quite athletic in his ability, and this aspect lends itself well to this piece.
I enjoyed trying to analyze the meaning behind the concept, as the dancers increasingly appeared to be wearing a mix of white and black, and wearing the same frills and costume elements that other dancers wore earlier. While this is going on, there’s constant movement of the flood lights onstage (I think there were two), and the creation of shadows and different lighting effects on the dancers.
The piece ties nicely at the end, and although I didn’t quite get everything that happened, I was entertained by Enemy in the Figure and thought Ballet BC’s interpretation was very exciting.
To this day
Choreographer: Emily Molnar in collaboration with the artists of Ballet BC
To this day is set to the music of Jimi Hendrix, and is choreographed by Ballet BC’s artistic director, Emily Molnar, in collaboration with the company. And while I’ve always loved the quirkiness and creativity in Molnar’s work, I didn’t feel this one lived up to her usual standard. Granted, this was a world premiere and there may be further development ahead for this piece. Overall, I felt there were some nice moments, but it took me a long time to get into it and even by the end, I never felt I could relate to the piece.
The first quarter of the piece doesn’t quite work for me. One by one, the cast perform individual choreography to the guitar music. Personally, I had a difficult time understanding how the choreography fit with the music. And there wasn’t anything really anything driving my interest until a comedic partnering bit later on that included Miriam Gittens jumping onto her partner’s shoulders in what results in a clever, nicely done lift.
From that point on, the piece started to draw me in, and there’s a nice duet section later on with two men whose energetic attack to their choreography was great to see – and I noticed it was very clean as well, which was impressive.
I believe it was Zenon Zubyk who has a delightful comedic solo, in which he exudes incredible energy and fluidity in his movements (at times he’s loose as spaghetti). That was definitely fun to watch. And the entire cast dances really well. But the piece didn’t really leave me feeling anything. Part of it could also be that I couldn’t connect with the music either.
Choreographer: Medhi Walerski
Petite Cérémonie showcases Ballet BC at its best and should be considered a signature showpiece for the company. Needless to say, this piece was definitely the strongest of the evening. The dancers seem very comfortable with this style of choreography and they delivered it with excellent strength, artistry and personality.
Petite Cérémonie is already interesting before it begins. The curtain rises abruptly a good five minutes before the piece actually starts, and all the innerworkings of the stage – stage lights, production team members walking around, etc. – are fully exposed, as if to say, “we’re about to strip everything down and have an open, transparent conversation”.
The first dancer to take the stage is the always entertaining Gilbert Small. He begins a simple choreographic phrase at centre stage and is soon joined by the rest of the dancers as they enter from different directions, including walking down the aisles of the theatre and climbing onstage. The dancers look stunning in their costumes, designed by Linda Chow – the women in simple black evening dresses and the men in classic black suits.
The piece has an essence of elegance mixed with quirkiness. There are moments when the dancers clump together in tight formations that remind me of “Rich Man’s Frug” in Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity. One female dancer performs an interesting solo to “Blue Moon”. And there’s a collection of vignettes where couples do peculiar duets while the rest of the company sit on little boxes on both sides of the stage and observe.
There’s an amazing moment when dancer Peter Smida starts to juggle (he does an excellent job!), while speaking. The dutiful Zenon Zubyk comes out holding a boom microphone (I think that’s what they’re called…it’s a microphone at the end of a long-reaching extension) so we can hear Smida as he starts going on about how men’s brains are made up of different boxes that help them deal with different aspects of life. He argues that men can only do one thing at a time (as he’s juggling), and that women’s brains are different, in that their brains are wired so that everything is interconnected.
The program notes for Petite Cérémonie indicate that the piece is about “A group of people searching for the right space, the perfect balance. Men and women,” and revolves around what “life in a box” means. I think the struggle for men and women to find common ground in relationships is pretty clear in this piece, and the “life in a box” theme is also evident; the dancers later drive their individual boxes around the stage and use the boxes as focal points for their choreography.
Kudos to choreographer Medhi Walerski, who also doubles as scenic designer of this piece. Along with the help of Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design, there’s a cool section involving the shadows of some of the female dancers projected onto the scrim at the back of the stage, making this piece even more intriguing.
And despite the quirky and humorous nature of this piece, the dancers still exude a sense of urgency as the climax draws near; there’s a genuine passion that develops that I felt was absent until this point in the evening. The final section of Petite Cérémonie is danced to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and it’s an exquisite, climatic finale to the piece, with dancer Patrick Kilbane leading the company in fine form.
I’ve seen the National Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Alberta Ballet perform, and I personally feel that one of the things that sets Ballet BC apart from these companies is the personalities of its dancers. And this piece allows the dancers’ personalities to really shine through. Petite Cérémonie really brings out the best in Ballet BC. And the everything is packaged together elegantly. It was a pleasure to see Ballet BC presented in such fine form.
Ballet BC’s Program 1 was presented at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from November 1-3. For upcoming performances, visit Ballet BC’s website.