Saturday, March 10, 2012

Madly Inspired Dancing by Ballet BC

Another stellar program of dance last night by Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar, one that especially showed the depth and range of the company, and one that was also notable for the memorable music that inspired each of the three featured works.

Leading off was Molnar's own between disappearing and becoming, the piece that was most obviously indebted to classical principles. Set to selections from Hildur Gudnadóttir's haunting cello suite Without Sinking, the choreography placed the women mostly on point, entering and exiting the stage like fluttering birds, but also showing their collective strength when massed as a corps. There were also impressive moments of partnering that showcased the women's extensions and turns, and the men's powerful lifting. Yet alongside this, Molnar also threw in more contemporary movement, often done in unison, with limbs collapsing and twisting at elbows and knees in ways that showed her familiarity with Forsythe's improvisation techniques. Bonnie Beecher's inspired lighting design featured multiple fades and blackouts that, alongside the music, contributed to the sense of ephemerality and in-betweenness structuring the piece, with the dancers often caught in the middle of a movement phrase--"the space where," as Molnar writes in her program notes, "disappearing and becoming are one."

Next up was Aszure Barton's Vitulare, another world premiere, and set to a range of choral and folk music from around the globe. Her choreography likewise drew mostly on folk traditions, with traces of everything from Celtic line- and step-dancing, to Russian knee-bends, and the familiar circle of the Jewish hora. To see the full company lined up horizontally downstage and raise there arms en masse to place behind each other's backs as a prelude to the quick-quick-slow step sequence that is the basic grammar of so many of these traditions slapped a giddy smile on my face that didn't leave until the final curtain call. But it was Alexander Burton (a stand-out in all three pieces of the evening) breaking ranks and teaching his fellow company members to bust a few hip hop-inspired moves (nothing if not the measure of its own folk tradition) that really got this party started. Barton's work couldn't have been more different from Molnar's in style and tone, and yet both pieces were equally captivating to watch--not least for how fully and transportingly the entire company embodied the aesthetic of each.

Swedish choreographer Johan Inger's Walking Mad closed out the evening, and was the work with the most obvious musical and choreographic pedigree. A hit ever since its premiere in the Netherlands in 2001, the piece is set to Ravel's Boléro, but in a way that is more send-up than homage of that composition's romantic clichés. It begins with dancer Gilbert Small, clad in a trench coat and top hat mounting a set of stairs from the orchestra pit and "lifting" the curtain to reveal a stage strewn with several pieces of clothing, a large wall looming upstage. Rachel Meyer appears and starts picking up the clothing. Small removes his coat and offers it to her. She refuses to take it, exiting with a bemused smile. Small then peers around one end of the wall, which is the cue for Maggie Forgeron to emerge from the other side and then mime grabbing his top hat, placing it upon her own head. The madness has begun. Indeed, when Forgeron places her head against Small's chest as the first strains of the famous snare drum and trilling flute that open Ravel's music are heard, and they begin an athletic pas de deux around the wall, you know this isn't going to be what we've come to expect from this composition.

The wall is a key prop throughout the piece. It moves forwards and backward, up and down; people pop out of doors that line it, get enclosed within its wings, slam against it, jump onto or even over it. It's certainly the impetus for some witty sleights, but also for some dextrous dancing, particularly by the three women, Meyer and Forgeron being joined by a superb Alyson Fretz on this particular evening. But the wall also marks a tonal division in the piece, as after most of the dancers disappear behind it (leaving behind their trench coats) and the Ravel music ends, Small and Meyer are back where they started. Only this time they dance a moving pas de deux to Arvo Part's Für Alina, music that in its stark minimalism couldn't be further from Ravel's. Small and Meyer are gorgeous together, but I'm not sure the juxtaposition entirely works.

What I am sure of is that Ballet BC keeps moving from strength to strength. The 2012-13 season has just been announced, and it includes a partnership with PuSh (yay!), not to mention a new Giselle by resident choreographer José Navas. In the meantime, I look forward to the last offering of this season, a full-length version of Navas' Bliss, the hit of last year.


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