Ballet B.C. ends its season on a high note with UN/A

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A Ballet B.C. production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, April 24. Continues April 25 and 26

Ballet B.C. is ending its season on a high note, with work that’s sometimes as intricate and dazzling as finely carved glass. In fact, things got off to such a good start on opening night that the audience was on its feet whooping and applauding long before the show even ended.

The crowd was responding to the first of three world premieres: Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto’s exhilarating Twenty Eight Thousand Waves, a fast-driving but meticulously sculpted vision of wrapping and unwrapping forms. No one creates pas de deux in the endlessly innovative ways that Soto does. At one point Racheal Prince’s legs reach up as she winds her ankles around Darren Devaney’s neck; at other points, the lifted women cross and uncross their legs like the world’s most gorgeous crane flies. It’s weightless, high-speed, and mind-blowingly difficult dance.

All this fresh movement is set in a moodily atmospheric, but never literal, world. The music ranges from the haunting chorales of David Lang’s the little match girl passion to the angular strings of Bryce Dessner’s Aheym. Lighting director James Proudfoot sends big rows of industrial show lights down low on their tracks, just above the dancers, or sets off a blaring grid from the back of the stage. The costumes—the women’s wet, high-collared blouses at the beginning, and later, the shirtless men’s kiltlike skirts, the colour of ocean icebergs—give the whole piece a historic feel. But best of all is the powerful attitude the dancers give off throughout: men stride toward the audience, staring it down (just try to avert your gaze from Thibaut Eiferman’s burning eyes; few dudes have ever looked this self-assured in a skirt before). It’s heady stuff—riveting, refined, and edgy. And the audience went wild for it.

Its follow-up, fellow Spaniard Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s Lost and Seek, did not disappoint in its opening moments. Born-and-bred Vancouverite Alexander Burton took the spotlight in a herky-jerky solo that brought into relief how versatile this arresting dancer is, and how he’s just getting better each season. Sansano’s unexpected takeon a Johann Sebastian Bach piano solo roots out its quirks in movement that is at once wonky and graceful—a lost soul hunching, reaching, and kicking out in the dark. From there, the piece opens into an exploration of controlled chaos across the stage, the choreographer playing high-level games with Bach’s counterpoint. Dressed in tailored Bermuda shorts, buttoned-to-the-collar shirts, and, yes, a few kiltlike skirts again, the dancers bring to mind prim students in private-school uniforms, at times breaking free from the group synchronization, turning, and starting a new path. The work wraps up with a more traditional pas de deux, with Alexis Fletcher and Scott Fowler, that feels a bit slower and more traditional after Soto’s work.

Gioconda Barbuto’s full-company, stage-covering show-closer, immix, is more about unleashing, set as it is to the chopping, looping strings and fractured beats of London-based composer Gabriel Prokofiev’s genre-fusing score. Barbuto throws it all against the wall here: there ar even touches of break-dancing in there with the en pointe work of ballet, the use of carefully sculpted group formations (at one point the 17 intertwined, curled forms pulse like a single, throbbing brain), and then some a somewhat tangential game of chase and tag in the dark as the dancers use handheld LED lights. The duets here are muscular—bodies are sometimes even drawn by a supercharged invisible force from the palm of their partner’s hand.

You could call it the fun, unharnessed opposite of the evening’s opener. But all of Ballet B.C.’s premieres on the program (the strongest of the season) share a place on the edge between sophistication and risk. It’s a place the company has definitively staked out for itself, and its young artists dance that edge like they own it.

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