Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ballet BC's UN/A

April really is the cruelest month if you're an academic--a perfect storm of marking, meetings, and manuscripts for essays and conference papers that can't any longer be ignored. Which doesn't leave much time for blogging. And which explains why this post on Ballet BC's final program for the 2013/14 season--a mix of three stunning world-premieres--is briefer than I'd like it to be.

Although very different in scale, tone, and choreography, the three works that make up UN/A (and I must ask Emily where she comes up with her program titles) all feature distinctive musical scores and lighting designs. The latter is perhaps to be expected from Cayetano Soto, whose Twenty Eight Thousand Waves was first up, and which at one point featured the same full-on upstage rock star white-paneled heat that he employed in the piece for Ballets Jazz de Montréal that played here two years ago. However, the work actually starts with three tracks of overhead spots having been lowered to just above the stage. A quartet of female dancers, wearing simple button-down shirts, moves in precise unison among them as an a cappella chorus from The Little Match Girl Passion rises in pitch and intensity. The lighting tracks do eventually rise, clearing room for some of the most complex, technical, and yet absolutely fluid partnering I've seen from the company this or any other season. There was one lift, in particular, that left me breathless and in awe of how--both mechanically and in terms of its split-second timing--it was accomplished. That, during these sections, the dancers were additionally moving in perfect synchronization with a fiercely compelling string quartet by Bryce Dessner (commissioned and played by the Kronos Quartet) only added to the overall effect of the piece. The jury was still out for me on Soto following the BJM performance, but after last night I'm definitely a convert.

The soundtrack to Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's Lost and Seek is all Bach, including such well-known (and dare I say clichéd) classics as the The Goldberg Variations and The Well-Tempered Clavier. This is not to say that the accompanying movement was equally shopworn--merely that after Soto's piece, Sansano's work read as quieter, more contemplative. To that end, the work begins with a solo by Alexander Burton, dressed like a young boy in grey shorts, shirt and socks, his movement contained and largely gestural, almost as if he's seeking a way outside of the square of light to which he's been consigned stage left. Release does come in the second section of the piece, a sextet that explores the geometry of the stage and the geometry of bodily relationships in some startlingly original ways. The work concludes with a duet by Gilbert Small and Rachel Meyer, who ascends to the stage on a staircase jutting out into the audience and then proceeds, en pointe, to stalk Small (who is seated on the floor with his legs extended) upstage. With Meyer doing various pirouettes and arabesques in Small's arms, this section felt like it was trying to approximate some of the traditions of classical ballet; at the same time, some of the lifts looked awkward and perhaps even under-rehearsed, suggesting to me that Sansano hadn't quite figured out the effect he was going for in this final section. He has, however, come up with a beautiful closing image, with Small recreating his seated pose from the opening, only this time on Meyer's lap.

The evening concluded with Toronto-born Gioconda Barbuto's immix, a full-company work set to a selection of electronic remixes of the music of contemporary classical composers Gabriel Prokofiev (no mention in his bio if he's related to that other Prokofiev) and Peter Gregson. The piece begins with a single follow spot seeking out various members of the audience, before settling downstage to await the first dancer's entrance (the lighting design for immix and Lost and Seek was by James Proudfoot). As successive dancers stealthily slip in and out of this sliver of light, the music builds to a crescendo and we're off on a glorious ride of bodily tableaux and choreographic montage. There is so much going on in this work, but what struck me most were the tiny moments in which Barbuto, focusing on different pairs of dancers, is able to arrest and break down the movement, showing us in simple ways how a body travels through space: as when an arm or torso sequences from bent to vertical in syncopated time to the music; or when, at different points over the course of the piece, a dancer would shimmy his or her entire body like a genie being released from a bottle. Gorgeous stuff, which will no doubt become a highlight of the company's traveling repertoire.

Looking forward to next season.


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