Dance Review: Ballet BC offers engaging and unique contemporary with Program 3

All photo credits: Michael Slobodian

All photo credits: Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC concludes its 2016/2017 season with Program 3, a triple bill of two pieces choreographed by Israeli artists and one original piece by artistic director, Emily Molnar.

Overall, all three pieces were both entertaining and intriguing. Ballet BC’s stature as a top contemporary company is clearly evident. Program 3 demonstrates creativity and various styles of contemporary, while also being very engaging for the audience – a feat that isn’t always achieved with ambitious contemporary.

However, there is an apparent lack of ballet in Program 3 - ironic, since ballet is in the company’s name. Even for a contemporary ballet company, many audiences will expect at least some pointe in a performance, and there was none in Program 3

It will be interesting to see how next season’s Romeo and Juliet is interpreted. I suspect many audience members would appreciate a little more ballet alongside Ballet BC’s continual excellence in contemporary.

Review of Program 3

Lock: Choreographed by Emanuel Gat in collaboration with the artists of Ballet BC

Lock, a collaborative effort between Gat and the dancers, is a reflection of the Ballet BC creative process. Think of it as a dance about making dances and all the efforts, emotions and stories that go with it.

The curtain rose while the house lights were still up, and dancer Andrew Bartee and female dancer walked towards each other  as the audience abruptly hushed. Bartee, dressed in a black top and long pants, was costumed differently to the rest of the company, who all wore grey tops and dark shorts. As Bartee continued his duet with his partner, other couples started to form, some of them co-ed and some of them of the same sex. Eventually the dancers branched off, forging new partnerships, or walking off to the sides of the stage where the remainder of the dancers stood patiently.

The partnering section soon ends and a variety of interesting formations take over. The often frantic choreography, sometimes done in silence and sometimes set to music of varying tones, would occasionally climax and then blossom into pleasant interludes. These interludes were occasionally enhanced by gorgeous arabesques from Peter Smida, whose lines seem to continue infinitely. Also pleasing to the eye were the brilliant leg extensions by Gilbert Small.

Brandon Alley’s athletic build and style blended nicely with the soft lines he displayed, aesthetically graced by his flowing grey shirt. It was next to impossible to tell the female dancers apart, who looked almost identical in their homogenous costumes and style of hair.

Something about this piece struck me as being very relatable. Perhaps it was the unconventional presentation, which seemed almost like a rehearsal or workshop at times. It therefore likely conjured up a sense of familiarity to anyone who has been involved in the dance world.

An interesting commentary in how we present our individuality onstage underlined this piece. Despite being costumed identically for the most part, a sense of individuality was eluded from each dancer. As well, Bartee - the lone dancer dressed differently, blended in so well with the rest of the company that you forgot he was dressed differently.

While not quite ground breaking or overwhelmingly impactful, Lock was a pleasant piece to watch.

Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming: Choreographed by Emily Molnar in collaboration with the artists of Ballet BC

Molnar was commissioned to create this piece in partnership with Canadian composer Nicole Lizee, as part of the National Arts Centre (NAC)’s celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. As the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, a curious spotlight lit the stage and a sense of wonder filled the air as dancers danced and leaped across. There was intrigue and joy as the dancers moved to Lizee’s quirky and charming score.

The dancers seemed to pass their energy onto each other as they graced the stage. Two female dancers in particular were quite a treat to watch. The first was Kirsten Wicklund, who was glorious in her very stylized, animated movements. Quite the versatile artist, Wicklund’s fluidity and embrace of Molnar’s choreography was exceptional. This was done in combination with her exquisite technique. For example, the gradual développé of her leg à la seconde was outstanding. In one of her partnering sequences, she fell backwards into the arms of her partner with her leg extended devant. Her partner rotated her in promenade and Wicklund’s supporting leg was so turned out, it was excellent to see.

The other female dancer who electrified the stage with her luminous style and seemingly effortless technique was Emily Chessa. Like Wicklund, she expressed Molnar’s interestingly animated and fluid choreography with great showmanship and ease. But there was also a very unique quality about Chessa’s work that was compelling to watch.

The piece had some interesting moments enhanced with lighting effects. For example, one section involved three spotlights which created three distinct areas of play for the dancers to explore. A highlight of the piece was near the end when the dancers displayed great elevation in their mini jetes coming towards the audience.

Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming was a very amusing and charming piece, which took audiences to a whimsical world of fantasy and intrigue. The perfect escape.

Minus 16: Choreographed by Ohad Naharin

This final piece of Ballet BC’s 2016/2017 season unconventionally began with a lone male dancer dressed in a suit, comically dancing his way throughout the stage during intermission. His efforts in this were quite outstanding – it’s often much more difficult to improvise and engage in this style of dance, as it is to do choreography. As the piece officially began, he was joined onstage by the other dancers, all uniformly costumed in suits, and performing the delightful choreography.

Then the curtain fell. When it rose again, the atmosphere had dramatically converted to what I felt was very serious and foreboding. Set to some powerful Israeli-inspired music, the athletic and compelling choreography was brilliantly performed by the dancers, who were arranged in a semi-circular formation with chairs. The intensity increased each time the choreographic phrase was repeated by the cast, who would shout a quote from the song each time. As the sense of aggression threatened to explode, the dancers would violently shed pieces of clothing each time they repeated the choreographic phrase, until they were in clad in only tank tops and shorts.

There was a powerful sense of release and it was interesting to watch. The next section featured some of the male dancers, their beautiful lines accentuated by their minimal costumes and the soft glow of the lights.

Then…the audience participation section began. As the dancers walked offstage and into the audience, a sense of terror hit audience members as the dancers chose their prey. The dancers snagged audience members as their dance partners and led them on stage (thankfully I wasn’t one of the ‘lucky’ audience members).

This section was delightful to watch, as audience members were stricken with panic and confusion, as the dancers would sometimes leap into set choreography. At one point, the dancers fled from their partners and leapt around the audience members in a circle. But the dancers would always come back to their partners and treated them with affection and tenderness.

The final section of the piece was an explosion of fun as the dancers goofed around to electronic music, often with deadpan expressions on their faces.

Overall, this was a fascinating piece to watch. Definitely very unique and funny.

Ballet BC's Program 3 runs closes tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Visit Ballet BC's website for ticket information.