Friday, March 4, 2011

Turning Point On Fire at the Cultch

Proving that their stunning 2009 collaborative re-interpretation of Erik Satie's Relâche was not a one-off, the Turning Point Ensemble, Simone Orlando, and Josh Beamish's MOVE: the company, have done it once again, giving us a brand new Firebird 100 years after its Paris premiere.

Winner of the 2011 Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award for Music, Turning Point's Artistic Director and resident conductor, Owen Underhill, has commissioned a new chamber arrangement of Stravinsky's original score by Michael Bushnell. This comprises the first 35-minute half of the evening's program, and this lighter, more delicate version, featuring wind instruments, harp, and timpani and percussion to wonderful effect, was received rapturously by last night's audience at The Cultch.

After a 30-minute intermission, the audience returns to discover a cleared stage and the Turning Point musicians arranged on different levels of upstage scaffolding, part of Alan Storey's amazing set, complete with spiraling staircase and moveable ledges. MOVE Artistic Director and principal dancer Josh Beamish sits at the foot of the stairs, dressed in grey, and methodically folding innumerable paper cranes, which litter the floor at his feet. As the musicians warm up and tune their instruments, MOVE company members Cai Glover, Heather Dotto, and Gavin Stewart take turns improvising movement sequences as audience members file to their seats. When the house lights dim and Underhill assumes his position in the tech box behind the orchestra seating, from whence he will conduct Jocelyn Morlock's original score, we are ready for the start of Luft, Orlando's bold and beautiful choreographic take on the quest motif in the Firebird story.

As the Prince Ivan figure, I don't think I have ever seen Beamish dance as gorgeously, his amazing technique perfectly matched to Orlando's delicate and precise (and classically influenced) movement vocabulary. The amount of muscle control alone that it takes to flutter one's arms and hands the way Beamish effortlessly appears to do is astounding. Natalie Portman, eat your heart out! (And, yes, there is a Black Swan/White Swan motif at play here.) Expertly paired with Beamish as the Firebird is Alison Denham, and their pas de deux (particularly the floorwork) was especially captivating. The other dancers provide graceful accompaniment throughout, and, indeed, one of the most pleasing aspects of Luft is how thoroughly the MOVE dancers embody the musicality of Orlando's choreography, which in turn helps to highlight Morlock's lush score.

In short, this is a cross-disciplinary artistic collaboration that I hope goes far into the future, yielding still more bold reinterpretations of the classics. I personally vote for The Rite of Spring next! We have, dare I say, in Owen Underhill Vancouver's very own version of Diaghilev. And Turning Point, in its commissioning of and collaboration with other artists, is fast becoming a Ballets Russes for the 21st century.

Firebird is on at the Cultch through this Saturday.



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