Saturday, November 24, 2012

Back in the Groove with Ballet BC

Ballet BC's 2012-13 season opened in bravura style on Thursday, introducing audiences to some bright new faces on stage, as well as behind the scenes. I had a chance to speak with recently hired Executive Director Branislav Henselmann following last night's show, and was very impressed by his already considerable knowledge of the local performing arts scene, not least the PuSh Festival.

In/verse opens with the North American premiere of Jacopo Godani's A.U.R.A (Anarchist Unit Related to Art). An independent artist who is a self-described polymath, Godani is responsible not just for the choreography, but for the costumes, lighting design, and overall dramaturgical concept of the piece. It shows, as the moveable florescent lighting tubes, together with the TRON-like body suits worn by the dancers, lend the work the feel of a three-dimensional, animated video game. Set to a pulsating electro-acoustic score by the experimental German duo 48nord, the choreography is--as the work's title suggests--at once physically anarchic and conceptually integrated. The 15 dancers (including apprentices Emily Chessa and Scott Fowler, and standout guest artist Thibaut Eiferman) whirl about the stage with controlled abandon, breaking apart in patterns that defy any logical bodily line or grid, and coming back together in tableaux that are always off-centre, cores rooted but limbs splayed.

Next up was the world premiere of American choreographer Nicolo Fonte's Muse, which opens with a lone female dancer on point in a vertical shaft of light emanating from an open doorway upstage right. Over the course of the piece's opening movements, the men in the company interact with her and other of the women who occupy this space, but only from either side of it. They themselves never jump into the light, only over it. Until, that is, the light starts to get rolled up, and we realize what we have been observing is a clever trompe l'oeil effect created by the careful placement of some white stage matting, and its even more subtle illumination by lighting designer James Proudfoot. Rearranged horizontally along the stage, the mat then occasions the central movement of the piece, a duet between Dario Dinuzzi and the excellent new company member Darren Devaney. As technically complex as it is tender, the sequence features the men traveling the length of the mat and back again, guiding each other by the ankles, willing themselves to walk together, though only one of them will walk away.

Finally, the evening concludes with Artistic Director Emily Molnar's own world premiere, Aniel, a crowd-pleasing, eye-popping feast of danced whimsy set to the klezmer-inspired music of John Zorn. Into an empty, all-white box set the full company of 17 dancers race out, wearing Linda Chow's neon-coloured costumes, a riot of oranges and pinks and yellows and blues and greens. From this literally dazzling opening, which was greeted by instant applause, to Gilbert Small's closing kiss to the audience, this is a dual valentine from Molnar, one directed not just to her patrons, but also to her dancers. And those dancers are clearly having a lot of fun, bobbing and shuffling and grooving on and off stage in ways that telegraph their own personal kinesthetic responses to the music, but also coming together as a company for some highly structured choreography, especially with respect to Molnar's rhythmically complex hand and arm movements.

From beginning to end this was a program that announced: we're back.


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