Dance Review: Program 1 defines Ballet BC’s stature as a world-class artistic treasure

Ballet BC dancers Livona Ellis, Emily Chessa and Alexis Fletcher in Cayetano Soto's "Eight Years of Silence". Part of Ballet BC's latest work, "Program 1". Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

Ballet BC dancers Livona Ellis, Emily Chessa and Alexis Fletcher in Cayetano Soto's "Eight Years of Silence". Part of Ballet BC's latest work, "Program 1". Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

Two distinct contemporary pieces showcase Ballet BC’s versatility and artistic brilliance

There’s a common theme underlying Ballet BC’s season-opening work, Program 1. This exquisite offering of two pieces, Eight Years of Silence and B.R.I.S.A., is defined the personal journey of overcoming personal demons. Whether by confronting one’s own fears or finding the courage to break away from your comfort zone, Program 1 is a remarkable display of artistry, embodied by the incredibly talented Ballet BC dancers, who combine superb technique and versatility into world-class contemporary dance.

Last evening’s opening night performance marked the world premiere of Eight Years of Silence, choreographed by Cayetano Soto. The curtain lifted to reveal a solo male dancer, dressed in a metallic-looking bodysuit and black socks. His sharp, masculine and athletic movements, which sometimes melted into softer, elegant lines, was wonderful to watch. Combined with Soto’s lighting design, which cast shadows on the stage and enhanced the dancer’s impressively lean-muscled body, gave an almost supernatural-like visual.

From left to right: Justin Rapaport, Scott Fowler and Brandon Alley. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

From left to right: Justin Rapaport, Scott Fowler and Brandon Alley. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

The dancer was soon accompanied by another male dancer, dressed identically and joining in the same choreography. The experience of seeing the two twin-like dancers in unison was eerie and fascinating. Soon after, the original male dancer turned to walk off-stage in a pedestrian manner, leaving the remaining dancer to continue and evolve the choreography. And thus, the pattern began. He was soon joined by a metallic bodysuit-wearing female dancer, who eventually would continue on.

Eventually the patterns changed – there were duets, trios, multiple groupings. The movements ranged from creepy creature-like gestures, to gorgeous, stretched lines. There were extraordinarily physical partnering where male dancers would sweep the female from the stage to sky and everywhere in between. Yet the dancers made everything look smooth and effortless. They made unconventional movements look beautiful. And they made moments of awkward silence fascinating. Furthermore, this piece is incredibly detailed - every finger movement and head position is deliberate and given importance. 

Every now and then an abrupt blackout would happen. When the lights re-emerged, there was always a different situation, sometimes with different dancers onstage, in the midst of action. This, combined with the shadow-like atmosphere and the sweeping, instrumental score by Peter Gregson, cast an overall dream-like tone to the piece. As the curtain came descended, I felt as if I was experiencing the end of a dream that I did not want to wake up from.

From left to right: Emily Chessa, Brandon Alley and Justin Rapaport. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

From left to right: Emily Chessa, Brandon Alley and Justin Rapaport. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

The second piece, B.R.I.S.A., choreographed by Johan Inger, was a complete 360 degree departure. This piece is magnificent in its creative storytelling, complete with an abundance of props and highlighted by the dancers’ outstanding character portrayals. The central prop (among many props) was a huge, interesting carpet laid out onstage, across which the dancers shuffled across in the opening sequence. Performing Eastern culture-inspired movements, combined with animated, cartoon-like gestures, the opening scene evoked curiosity and amusement from myself as an audience member.

Encapsulated by multiple streamers hanging from ceiling to floor, lined across downstage, the constrained, prison-like atmosphere seemed to be ruled by a male dancer dressed in black, dancing to an appropriately-titled piece, Black Swan, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti.

Dancer Kirsten Wicklund eventually pops out from under the carpet and things start to change as the assorted cast of characters begin to experience new awakenings from their everyday lives.

Wicklund’s flailing of her arms as she lifts her upper body signifies her character urge to break free, and eventually she does. Her performance with four male dancers to Wild is the Wind composed by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin is one of the highlights of the evening. Wicklund flies through the air with wild abandon as her partners lift her through space. This fearless effort was wonderful to see.

What came next, took me completely by surprise – and it was riveting. The attention shifted to dancer Alexis Fletcher, who stood by herself on stage right – her hair blowing wildly thanks to a wind machine. She freely moved her body to the music’s thumping tribal beats. Her “give zero f*cks” movements in the wind was absolutely stunning to experience. And as she finished her solo, the other characters onstage soon discovered the wonderfulness of the new-found wind.

Alexis Fletcher in Johan Inger's "B.R.I.S.A.". Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

Alexis Fletcher in Johan Inger's "B.R.I.S.A.". Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

It started with a cute duet between Scott Fowler and Brandon Alley. Inspired by the wind discovery, the dancers playfully blow on each other before starting their adorable duet. A new freedom has been unleashed for all and the character revel in it. Nicole Ward and Emily Chessa break into a lovely Bob Fosse-like choreographic sequence, and there’s also a really cool bit with the girls and Peter Smida where they step over each other as they log roll across the stage.

From left to right: Nicole Ward, Peter Smida and Emily Chessa. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

From left to right: Nicole Ward, Peter Smida and Emily Chessa. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

I am well aware of the magnitude of what I’m about to say – one of the most glorious moments of my life as an audience member, was watching the cast as they celebrated the wind by repeating a delightfully uplifting choreographic phrase (choreographer Inger really knows how to make these effective!). Each time, the dancers made it more heartfelt and joyous then before. Part of what makes this sequence so magnificent is not only the grand gestures, but also the subtle, individualized movements of joy, wonderfully displayed by Alley and Smida among others.

There’s much more story that continues after that. It involves bringing the wind machine onstage, as well as a hand-held fan and a variety of wind-making gadgets, including blowdryers. It provides an enjoyable opportunity to experience the comical acting skills of the dancers, including Smida and Alley.

From left to right: Emily Chessa, Scott Fowler and Peter Smida. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

From left to right: Emily Chessa, Scott Fowler and Peter Smida. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

I won’t give much more away, but one of the defining moments of this piece is a spectacular vision of the dancers, each completely embodying their various characters, crossing the length of the stage towards the wind machine. The distinct and unique characters of each dancer, expressed through their relationships with each other and space, as well as their faces and body movements is what dance is all about. This is what separates dance as an art, as opposed to just a physical discipline. And this is what elevates Ballet BC from a local contemporary ballet company, to a world-class treasure. Bravo!

Ballet BC dancer Brandon Alley. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

Ballet BC dancer Brandon Alley. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian.

Ballet BC's Program I plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at 8:00pm November 2-4, 2017. Tickets range from $30.00 to $100.00 (including service charges) and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at 1-855-985-2787 (855-985-ARTS) or online at ticketmaster.ca. Visit Ballet BC's website for additional information.