Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ballet BC's Grace Symmetry

The current mixed program by Ballet BC, on through this evening at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, is the second collaboration between the company and the Turning Point Ensemble, following their "double anniversary" celebrations in April 2011.

Back from that original program is Wen Wei Wang's In Motion, his danced meditation on Turning Point conductor and Co-Artistic Director Owen Underhill's original composition, "The Geometry of Harmony." The conceit of the piece is that the musicians are on stage with the dancers, performing upstage, behind a scrim. The scrim is raised twice to allow for more focused explorations of the relationships between sound and movement. The first time flautist Brenda Fedoruk steps forward to accompany Emily Chessa in a graceful solo. The second time violinist Mary Sokol Brown is in the spotlight, guiding Gilbert Small and Peter Smida in an affecting duet that is notable for its horizontal floor work and almost contact-improv-like structures of support. The piece has definitely grown on me since its premiere, and it's a treat to see musicians and dancers responding to each other so immediately and intimately.

Next up was Prelude, a world premiere by Medhi Walerski, whose Petite Cérémonie has become a staple of Ballet BC's repertoire. This new work is set to music by Lera Auerbach, whose austere and conceptually elegant preludes for piano and violin lead to a meditation in movement on time as measure: of dance steps, as well as the imagination more generally. It begins with Darren Devaney poised on a rung of stairs below the stage at audience left; he holds one hand aloft. As a few lonely piano bars are played offstage (by the amazing Jane Hayes), the curtain rises on the rest of the Ballet BC ensemble, who are already moving. And they continue to do so even after the piano accompaniment fades out, with Walerski beautifully exploiting the spatial dimensions of silence in the same way that Auerbach had played with resonance between each of her notes. However, at a certain point Peter Kyrsa's violin comes crashing in, and this is the cue for the otherwise disparately moving dancers to form into a unified corps around Devaney and Rachel Meyer. A series of flowing yet intensely athletic duets for these two dancers (featuring lots of complex and body-hugging lifts) are accompanied by the more gestural language given to the rest of the dancers, who often frame the couple on either wing or, as at the end, along the upstage curtain, repeating a series of synchronized arm movements. The piece closes with that upstage line of bodies collapsing like an accordion to the floor as Devaney, now alone centre-stage, begins a convulsive, twitching solo, the curtain slowly descending as we see Meyer emerge as if from thin air to observe her abandoned partner from his former place on the downstage stairs.

The evening concluded with a co-commission by Ballet BC and Turning Point. In Here on End, Kevin O'Day has choreographed a full company work to new music by longtime collaborator John King. The score issues forth from the orchestra pit (where the TPE musicians are now ensconced) in blasts of strings and brass and percussion. Similarly, the dancers race on and off the stage to perform increasingly physical movement patterns in various bodily combinations: duos and trios and quartets. Both musically and in terms of the at-times Jerome Robbins-like choreography, I was put in mind of the Sharks and Jets sequences from West Side Story. In this respect, the piece is also notable for the intensely atmospheric lighting by James Proudfoot (the lighting designer for all three pieces). Overhead specials keep lowering closer and closer to the stage as the piece wears on, enclosing the dancers into ever tighter massings, until at the end of the piece we see the entire ensemble encircling, somewhat menacingly, an unsuspecting Small--who nevertheless dances on until we get a perfectly timed blackout.

Three more world premieres conclude the 2013/14 Ballet BC season in April. And already the line-up for next year has been announced. It features lots more new and boundary-pushing contemporary work, but also some classics: a re-imagined and collaboratively interdisciplinary Rite of Spring, with choreography by Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano; and an evening of Balanchine works courtesy of the Miami City Ballet.


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