Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ballet BC at the Queen E

You have to hand it to Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar. She is really working her international dance connections during this make-or-break 25th anniversary season for the company. And she's also piling on the new commissions.

This weekend's program, Volo, on at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre through this evening, featured a heavy Netherlands Dance Theatre connection: there was an excerpt from former legendary company leader Jirí Kylián's Toss of a Dice, an affecting pas de deux featuring guest artists Medhi Walerski and Lesley Telford; Jorma Elo's 1st Flash, which premiered at NDT in 2003; and a new work, Petite Cérémonie, set on the full Ballet BC company (including apprentices Alexander Burton and Livona Ellis, who made wonderful impression in her solo) by Walerski, a former NDT principal dancer and now a freelance choreographer. Throw in another world premiere, sweet, by Canadian Shawn Hounsell (whose new full-length work, Wonderland, created for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and based on Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, arrives in town soon), and it was quite a jam-packed evening.

Would that the house itself was also bursting at the seams. There were a lot of empty orchestra seats last night, and but for the Financial Divas (some sort of group corporate outing by female business executives) taking up most of the mezzanine, the audience might have been smaller still. To be sure, the company lost a lot of core supporters during its recent financial troubles; and its subsequent rebranding as a "contemporary" ballet troupe under Molnar's direction is not without risks in terms of finding the right balance between those traditional types who want to see their dancers en pointe and a younger generation raised on So You Think You Can Dance? and whose only exposure to classical ballet has likely come via the recent psychodrama of Black Swan.

Frankly, last night could have used more drama. The dancing, as always, was technically accomplished, and threading through the first three works was some very interesting partnering, much of it walking (often en pointe) a tightrope between classical elements of line and unison, and their deliberate deconstruction. However, the emotion of these works seemed to be displaced almost wholly onto the music and the lighting design/scenography. The audience responded with enthusiasm to Walerski's Petite Cérémonie, and it was great to see the full company having heaps of fun in this playful take on what was pitched, on the one hand, as a "boxed" meditation on gender difference, but which I read as a more interesting commentary on the ritual processes associated with the "black box" of theatre. Still, the work was not without its cliches, including a somewhat trite musical selection, and the insertion of spoken text (uttered by new company member Dario Dinuzzi, who also juggles) that seemed entirely random.

Our seatmates (my Pilates instructors Sarah and Natasha) told us that last November's mixed program was, overall, much better. Unfortunately, we had to miss that offering, as we were away in Seattle. But I have no regrets about signing up as a mini-pack subscriber for the remainder of this season, which includes a visit by the Alvin Ailey Company in March, and a "double anniversary" celebration with Turning Point Ensemble (featuring live music and more world premieres) in April. Plus next season we have recently appointed resident choreographer José Navas' reinterpretation of Giselle to look forward to. I predict that will be Ballet BC's own "turning point"--a new story ballet by a rising choreographic star who proved with The bliss that from their limbs all movement takes he knows what it means to stamp this company as classically contemporary.

Now all we have to do is ensure Molnar and her troupe make it to that moment. She announced in her curtain speech that they are in the midst of a $300,000 fundraising campaign, almost half of which has been raised. That's great news, but there's a ways to go yet. I urge all dance lovers in BC to do their bit.


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