Ballet BC's Trace program is on at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this weekend. The coup of the evening is artistic director Emily Molnar landing William Forsythe's "workwithinwork" for the company. One other Forsythe piece, the witty "Herman Schmerman," is already part of the Ballet BC repertoire, but "workwithinwork" is Forsythe at his most rigorously deconstructive and technically complex. First premiering in 1998, and here receiving its Canadian debut, the piece is set to a violin duet by Luciano Berio and clocks in at a demanding 35 minutes or more. Part of what makes watching Forsythe--and this work, in particular--at once so challenging and rewarding is that he gives his audiences neither a narrative nor a movement through-line; instead, he creates a series of synchronous tableaux in which he shows us with precise accumulation the extraordinary physicality and athletic training that goes into the execution of a signature pose or a seemingly effortless bit of partnering. Forsythe is less interested in completion and dancers in this piece will frequently break off (or out of) a movement pattern before it is "finished" to walk nonchalantly offstage. In this way, Forsythe takes apart ballet's set structures and exposes the work that goes into making the work.
If "workwithinwork" is dance stripped down to its bare essentials--bodies moving in space--then the second piece on the program, the world premiere of Walter Matteini's Lascia ch'io pianga, shows what can happen when a concept becomes overdressed in theatrical embellishment. From the weighty choice of music (from Verdi and Vivaldi to Bach and Handel), to the evocative lighting by James Proudfoot, and the mixed register costume design by Ina Broeckx (the men in tux tails, the women divided between masculine slacks and shapeless shifts), everything about the piece screams "pay attention, this is meaningful." Except that I found the choreography anything but, and apart from a final mournful procession of company members to an upstage recess, all that I have retained is Emily Chessa's opening and closing gesture of wiping off her arms and the gimmick of suspending two of the women dancers on swings.
The evening closed with the audience favourite Petite Cérémonie, by Medhi Walerski. First set on the company in 2011, the piece is based on Walerski's interviews with company members about the concept of "life in a box," and appropriately features a series of white cubes--which get a vigorous workout, especially during a riotous closing sequence set to the allegro movement of Vivaldi's "Winter" section of The Four Seasons. Despite the undeniably pleasurable and infectious energy derived from the ending, and also the humour of an earlier bit in which Peter Smida (taking over from much lamented former company member Dario Dinuzzi) addresses the audience about the differences between men's and women's brains while juggling, for my money nothing can beat the simple elegance of the opening. With the wings and back walls of the stage exposed, the dancers, beginning with Gilbert Small, enter noiselessly one by one (including from the audience), joining each other in a simple metronomic two-step in which they shift their weight from foot to foot. Here is corps de ballet as chorus line that despite the lack of Broadway-style razzmatazz still conveys a palpably singular sensation of what it feels like to watch a group of individuals move as one.
Speaking of Walerski, Ballet BC has announced its line-up for its 2015-16 season, which will also be its 30th anniversary. It features a new evening-length work by Walerski, who will be joining the company for a three-year stint as choreographer-in-residence. Also on tap are Canadian premieres by Crystal Pite and Sharon Eyal, new work by Cayetano Soto and Jorma Elo, and the return of Molnar's own 16 + a room.