Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ballet BC's No. 29

As Artistic Director Emily Molnar explained in her curtain speech, the title of Ballet BC's 2014-15 season opener, No. 29, is doubly significant. Not only is this the twenty-ninth year of the company's existence, but the pieces being premiered on the evening's program bring to a total of 29 the number of new works added to the company's repertoire since Molnar took over in 2009.

It is the latter number that it is most significant and it is a testament to how fresh and forward-looking Molnar has kept things since she took over that the one repeat presentation last night, Jacopo Godani's opening A.U.R.A., felt like I was seeing it for the first time. Or maybe it was the fact that fully half of Ballet BC's dancers this season are new. While I am sad to see some favourites go (Thibault and Alex, I'll miss you!), clearly Molnar has a rich pool of talent to draw from, much of it local (thank you Arts Umbrella). The fifteen dancers handled Godani's off-centre choreography and lightning quick transitions with deft aplomb, forming and deforming a series of increasingly complex grid patterns that, as I wrote upon the work's premiere two years ago, evoke comparisons to video animation.

Fernando Hernando Magadan's White Act is a world premiere that harkens back to the classic era of Romantic ballet, and in particular La Sylphide. In the first part, the men hurtle across the stage en masse while the women float past them on point, individual columns of chimerical beauty that can be reached for but never fully grasped. That this was performed to Schubert's decidedly post-Romantic Death and the Maiden made for an odd juxtaposition. Much more successful, to my mind, was the duet anchoring the second half, which was preceded by a neat video trick by collaborating artist Harmen Straatman.

The evening concluded with Vancouver-born, and until recently Madrid-based Lesley Telford's An Instant. Set to the driving, swirling strings of Michael Gordon's Weather One, and with Wislawa Szyborska's poem "Could Have" spoken in voice-over, the piece is an exhilarating, intensely physical exploration of chance as it intersects with time. What does it mean to arrive too early, or too late? To spin off axis, or lean just a bit too far to the side and risk falling? To throw oneself backwards and trust someone is there to catch you? Telford explores these questions in partnerings built on a logic of abandon and generative risk, on the split-secondness of moving one way instead of another--and the equally accidental anticipating of and/or catching up to such a move. Just when we think Emily Chessa, in leaping to the left or right, is going to plunge to the floor, Christoph von Riedemann is there to forestall gravity, and it is one of the highlights of the piece to see these two graduates of Arts Umbrella (where Telford first built an earlier version of the work two years ago) move together in such "uncontrolled" sync. Then, too, I enjoyed how Telford probed ideas of unpredictability and kinetic impulse at the muscular level, with Rachel Meyer, in particular, playing with a complex repertoire of gestural patterns throughout.


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