Monday, April 19, 2010

Ballet BC...

... is back.

New Artistic Director Emily Molnar certainly assembled a fine program of Vancouver dance premieres to mark her "bold new vision for the future" of the company this past weekend. That vision has less to do with Molnar creating (à la her predecessor, John Alleyne) new full-length story ballets of her own in-house and more to do with seeking out international choreographers to create contemporary works on and for Ballet BC's dancers. The recently announced 2010/11 season alone contains seven world premieres and three Vancouver premieres.

Bringing the best of international dance to Vancouver, and programming it alongside the wealth of homegrown talent we have in the city, is something I wholeheartedly support. We're nowhere near the model of London's Sadler's Wells, a grand clearing-house for the best groundbreaking local and global dance, but Barb Clausen and Jim Smith's excellent DanceHouse series (which closes its second season this weekend with Brazil's Grupo Corpo, and which will launch its third season this fall), together with The Dance Centre, festivals like the recently completed Vancouver International Dance Festival and the upcoming Dancing on the Edge, and now a rejuvenated Ballet BC, are helping to ensure that local audiences also get to see the best the world has to offer.

Why, for example, has it taken so long for William Forsythe's Herman Schmerman, the first work on the Ballet BC Re/Naissance program, to get here? (Why, for that matter, have we seen so little Forsythe dance in Vancouver more generally? He's only perhaps the world's leading contemporary choreographer...) Created for the New York City Ballet in 1992, Herman Schmerman showcases Forsythe's trademark improvisational style at its witty best, deconstructing academic ballet via syncopated rhythms that show the various kinds of slant and wrapped movements and bodily spatial configurations that lie between and, indeed, often lead to more synchronized, vertical, and standardly paired positions. This was especially on view in the concluding pas de deux between Makaila Wallace and Donald Sales, who not only displayed stunning physical communication and chemistry with each other, but were also clearly having a ball.

Next up was Israeli-born, Netherlands-based Itzik Galili's Things I Told Nobody, a more self-consciously theatrical work set to haunting music by Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Satie, whose Gymnopédie No. 1 provides the opportunity for a stunning concluding solo by Wallace. However, it is the piece's opening, to the largo from Handel's Xerxes, that has stayed with me the most. The sequence begins with Conor Gnam stage right, curled up on the floor, illuminated by the golden glow of a suspended industrial lamp. Through a succession of low plies, leg extensions, and general floor work, Gnam eventually sets the rest of the company in motion, hitherto curled up in shadow under their own lamps. The whole thing ends with the dancers turning the suspended lights on the audience, and I could only think that here, in its emotional simplicity, was what Marie Chouinard should have emulated back in March during her bloated premiere of The Golden Mean.

The evening concluded with local darling Crystal Pite's Short Works: 24, two dozen minute-long, largely non-narrative pieces set to pulsating music by Pite's longtime collaborator, Owen Belton, and featuring the dancers in solos, duos, trios, and larger group formations exploring the kinesthetic possibilities of pure movement. Goofy, inventive, and filled with all manner of Pite's impossible-to-imitate sinuous, jittery, almost-boneless limned movements (the company lined-up in a row, caterpillar-like on the floor stage right, moving only their heads and shoulders--and occasionally their bums--while a single female dancer performs a break-neck solo stage left was a sight to behold), it was a perfect way to end, if only because it proved that Ballet BC's classically trained dancers are up to the complexity of the boldest of contemporary choreography.

Judging by the thunderous applause, so are Vancouver's audiences. Here's to Molnar's brave new vision for the company. I look forward to the next season, and many more to come.


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