Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ballet BC's Program 3 at the Queen E

Ballet BC's 30th anniversary season comes to a close this weekend with its third and final repertory offering of 2015/16--aptly titled Program 3 (the utilitarian and self-evident evening descriptors are apparently an innovation that will carry over to next year). Paired together once again were Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo's I am I am You and Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar's 16+ a room, both of which audiences were first introduced to back in October 2013.

I previously wrote about both pieces here, so I won't go into too much added detail this time around, except to say that the works complement each other not just because they share a lighting designer (Jordan Tuinman) and a similar muted costume palette (by Kate Burrows). Each choreographer's choice of music also sets up an instructive contrast. Elo builds his piece around music by Bach, whereas Molnar opts for a contemporary electronic score by Dirk P. Haubrich. This, in turn, contributes to how the dancers are massed on stage in each work. Elo uses fluid transitions and elegant partnering to create vertical lines and tableaux. Molnar shoots her dancers like darts across the stage, purposefully missing each other and eschewing unison in favour of their different singular rhythms. Indeed, where Elo's piece ends with the dancers forming a perfect circle and extending their arms and torsos outward into space, Molnar has the curtain come down on a riot of individual and non-synchronous movement patterns, the visual chaos nevertheless deeply satisfying on a kinetic level.

The highlight last night was the company (and Canadian) premiere of red-hot Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal's Bill. As she did in Corps de Walk, for the Norwegian group Carte Blanche (which DanceHouse brought to town in 2013), Eyal--working with her partner Gai Behar--sends the dancers out on stage in flesh-coloured full-body lyotards, their hair painted white-blond, and presumably with their individual irises also camouflaged behind similar ice-blue contact lenses (though from where I was sitting I couldn't confirm this last detail). The piece begins with four solo etudes, the first three by male company members, and the fourth and final one by a female dancer. In each, Eyal combines an assortment of recognizably balletic moves (including a series of battements and jetés) with the Batsheva alumna's quixotic, Gaga-esque and thoroughly compelling vocabulary: strange flexions; hips thrusts and swivels that both invite and dissuade a sensual response; double-time foot shuffles and animatronic ambulation.

These are Ballet BC's dancers unlike we have seen them before, other-worldly creatures who, when the full company finally comes together, yelp and cry out strange commands to each other, dispersing outward in long lunges in one moment and then hopping back into a clump like little pixies in the next. Eventually Gilbert Small emerges from the group, arms raised in the air, body swaying this way and that as he makes his way downstage. Behind him a quartet of female dancers follows, raising and lowering their arms and heads, perhaps in obeisance. Meanwhile the rest of the company keeps up their patterns of robotic walking upstage. The combined effect, supplemented by the hypnotic music of frequent collaborator Ori Lichtik, was utterly entrancing, even if the casting of Small in the lead (is he supposed to be Bill?) did make me question the performative neutrality of the costuming in this piece more than in Corps de Walk.

What is certain, however, is that Bill is an amazing addition to the company's repertoire and a piece that will further distinguish the dancers' technical versatility as they take it, along with Molnar's 16 + a room and Crystal Pite's Solo Echo, out on tour later this month.


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