Saturday, April 16, 2011

Anniversaries in Movement and Music

Two out of four ain't bad.

At last night's season-ending Double Anniversary celebration of Ballet BC (25 years and teetering in the balance) and The Turning Point Ensemble (simply on fire after 5 years), we were presented with four world premieres by Canadian choreographers, each paired with original music performed live by TPE. But the first and last pieces, former Ballet BC company member Wen Wei Wang's In Motion and Gioconda Barbuto's Touch, left me unmoved--despite the kinesthetic appeal of their titles. Interestingly, both also revealed the greatest debt to classical tradition, with Wang's piece largely performed on point, and Barbuto's trading heavily on extension and line. But pretty poses are not enough if the corps lacks an emotional core, and the only time I felt a real connection to the dancers in either piece was during the gorgeous pas de deux performed by Dario Dinuzzi and Gilbert Small in Wang's piece. This was done to solo violin, with Mary Sokol Brown stepping out from the ensemble (positioned upstage, behind a scrim, one consequence of which was that the music for this first piece, a gorgeous composition by TPE conductor Owen Underhill, had to be amplified through speakers) to literally accompany the dancers centre stage.

For Serge Bennathan's Les chercheurs de dieu and BBC company member Donald Sales' Moththe TPE musicians were back in the orchestra pit and the unamplified sound was much more resonate. As was the dancing. Bennathan's piece, set to a newly commissioned score by Michael Oesterle, reminded me at the beginning of Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein's collaborations in West Side Story. The dancers were moving in packs, low to the ground, with the occasional vertical explosion, arms stretched to the ceiling, hands and fingers pulsing, quickening toward and by an energy other than their own. It was a force that transferred horizontally to the audience as well.

Finally, Sales' Moth, dedicated to the memory of his older brother, was a deeply moving meditation on grief. On a stage lit with tea candles, supplemented by the subtle artificial amber glow created by lighting designer James Proudfoot (who did a superb job lighting all four pieces), five female and one male dancer strip through the layers of denial and blame and guilt in successive solos that in their controlled abandon reveal both the vulnerability and the resiliency of the human body. A final pas de deux between Peter Smida (who has perhaps the perfect male dancer's body) and one of the female dancers (I'm sorry to say I can't remember which) to an "Epilogue for cello and piano" composed by Underhill was just stunning.

BBC Artistic Director Emily Molnar has announced the company's next season, and it is jam packed with visiting companies (including the National Ballet of Canada, which will be celebrating its own 60th anniversary) and new work (culminating in a full evening of pieces by new resident choreographer José Navas). I hope they can do a good sell, as last night's house was pretty thin, even with the added subscription base and audience from Turning Point. Granted, they were competing with a Canucks playoff game (a sad comment on this city). However, I think the company's recovery is still on very shaky ground. Despite the wobbles last night, the risks Molnar is taking in her programming, including cross-disciplinary collaborations like this one with TPE, deserve to be rewarded.

Here's hoping the company is around for at least another 25 years.


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