The concluding program of Ballet BC's 2017/18 season arrived this weekend. Two acclaimed remounts from the company's repertoire bookended a new piece by artistic director Emily Molnar. Because of time constraints this morning, I'll offer just a few brief reflections on each.
Cayetano Soto's Beginning After premiered in 2016, and is very much a showcase for Ballet BC dancers' incredible speed and technical virtuosity, not least in terms of partnering. (I wrote at greater length about that performance here.) Soto, who is also responsible for the lighting and costume design, creates evocative stage pictures with this work, and the fade ins and fade outs on different bodily configurations and lines and movements frequently have you questioning what you are seeing. Indeed, the piece's opening epigraph, about the fine line between truth and memory, applies not just to one's post-performance impression of the work, but to one's in-the-moment spectating experience. Did I just see what I think I saw? Did that male dancer just rotate that female dancer's leg around three times at the hip, like Barbie? If so, why didn't it, as my friend Kerry asked with astonishment at intermission, come off?
The world premiere of Molnar's when you left was doubly special because it was accompanied by live music from Vancouver's Phoenix Chamber Choir, led by conductor Graeme Langager. Set to an evocatively layered work of vocalise by Pēteris Vasks, Plainscapes, the piece begins with the dancers (the entire Ballet BC company, joined by several apprentices) advancing slowly from upstage in half light (the lighting design is by James Proudfoot), their bodies pulsing every now and then. Once arrived at their staggered positions, the dancers begin to cycle through a largely gestural score, a choreographic style I have not previously seen from Molnar, and one that here counterpoints the rising and falling pitches of the music most effectively. Indeed, when the dancers start to repeat their gesture bases--a reach with a hand, a collapse at the knee or hip--in canon, the syncopation of sound and movement is deeply satisfying. This, however, is only the prelude to an even more complex canon structure involving different group formations of dancers moving purposely through space, with successive cohorts breaking off and others tacking themselves on to a given trio or quartet. In the past I've sometimes felt that the frequent running and sliding sequences by which Molnar moves her dancers on and offstage are shortcuts to thinking more complexly about how to link different sections in a work. But here they are absolutely essential to the kinetic roundelay effect she creates in response to the music.
I was utterly captivated by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar's Bill when Ballet BC first introduced the work, also in 2016. So I was excited to see this remount, and it did not fail to disappoint. The combination of Ori Lichtik's house beats with Eyal and Behar's distinctive choreography (which combines the former's fascination with walking patterns with a more fluid and whimsical vocabulary inherited from Gaga) is just so enjoyable to soak in. I wrote at greater length about the company's premiere of the piece here, so I will only reiterate how taken I was by the way the piece begins, with the solo studies for three male dancers and one female dancer. In their nude body stockings, and executing with their always-in-motion limbs a crazily successful combination of balletic and cartoon-like moves, they struck me as channeling the energy and iconography of both Nijinsky's faun and an animated stick figure by Keith Haring. The entire company was excellent, but I will also single out Scott Fowler, here taking over from Gilbert Small, in the hieratic solo that is the capstone to the piece.