Ballet BC Resident Choreographer José Navas' the bliss from their limbs all movement takes was the breakout hit of the company's 2010-11 season. And of course it just happened to be on the program the one fall weekend Richard and I were away. Mercifully, Artistic Director Emily Molnar convinced Navas to expand the work into a full evening of dance, with the overall title of Bliss; last night at the Queen E we finally got to see what all the fuss was about.
The fuss almost certainly has to start with Navas' amazing musicality. The three distinct sections that comprise Bliss are each set to equally distinct musical selections. In the first, Annunciations, excerpts from Mozart's piano trios structure its three sections, and like the music the dancers move through space in ever more complex patterns, all the while appearing buoyant and serene. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the transition to the third movement, when with the full company assembled on stage, their backs to the audience, the women begin to float up en pointe one by one. The final Allegretto from Mozart's Trio in B Flat (K. 502) has not yet begun, and all we hear is the tap-tap-tap of the women's pointe shoes on the stage. "Sound's perpetual roundabout," as the poem by Edwin Muir reprinted in the program states, and from which Navas takes the titles for the first and third sections of his ballet. And, indeed, by the end of this first section, with a lone female dancer whirling about on stage en pointe, we are convinced that the dimensions of space are acoustic as much as they are visual.
The piece's second section, A Thousand Ways to Meet You Tenderly, is altogether different in tone. Set to the haunting strings of Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, from his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, it begins with four male and four female dancers entering the stage in shafts of horizontal light, each holding a chair. The men move stage left, the women stage right, setting down their chairs and then sitting down opposite each other. With quiet deliberateness, they begin removing their shoes. Then one of the men (Gilbert Small) stands up and begins walking towards the woman opposite him (Alexis Fletcher). She meets him halfway, at which point he collapses his head into her stomach and she eases him down to the floor, resting his weight against her thighs, and laying a gentle hand across his back. This signature move is then repeated by each of the other couples (Makaila Wallance and Peter Smida; Alyson Fretz and Connor Gnam; and Maggie Forgeron and Dario Dinuzzi), and it encapsulates in miniature the overall thematic structure of this middle section of Navas' ballet, what for want of a better term we might call the weight of grief. For the men's downward collapsings into the bellies of the women is counterpointed by the women's successive leapings into the arms of the men, wrapping their legs so lightly, so delicately, around the men's waists, as if in apology for the burdensome need of their embrace. Or perhaps the move references the inherent fragility and ephemerality of the return of such an embrace. For every meeting of the dancers centre stage is balanced by a sometimes reluctant, a sometimes willed, and always emotionally devastating return to their respective chairs. It's Orpheus and Eurydice X 4, and played over and over again, the only thing worse than the repetition of loss the anticipation of its return.
Finally, in the third section we get the famous original work from 2010 that set all of the above in motion. And what a whirling, twirling feast of motion it is, with the dancers spinning on and off the stage, and into duos and trios and quartets, to the increasingly frenetic tempo of Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar's Offering and Meeting Along the Edge. (That being said, the opening of the bliss..., like the third movement of Annunciations, begins in silence, confirming Navas' belief, as revealed in a recent Georgia Straight interview, that the true test of a dance's structure comes when it is performed without music.) The razor-sharp edge of both Navas' choreographic artistry and the dancers' commanding technique is fully on display in this section, as the number of bodies on stage expands so exponentially, and the literal changes in direction of those bodies come so quickly, that any missed cue would almost surely result in a huge pile-up. Kinesthetically one can't help but be swept up into the action, and as an exhilarating high-point on which to end the evening it really does leave one feeling a kind of blissful rapture.
Kudos to all at the reinvigorated Ballet BC on another inspired season. I look forward to next year, including Navas' new take on Giselle and, in January, a partnership with PuSh.