Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley have a lot going on in their lives right now, and it only starts with their six-month-old baby, Loa. She was just weeks old when their dance troupe, Company 605, embarked on a commission with Belgian choreographer German Jauregui called Albatross at the Firehall. At four months, she joined them as they toured their hit group work Inheritor Album to the Sydney Festival in January. And now they’re diving into their biggest project yet: choreographing a premiere for Ballet BC as part of Program 2, an all-local bill that salutes Canada’s 150th anniversary.
The company has come a long way since a decade ago, when the Straight first wrote about a new, hyperathletic, upstart, urban-dance-tinged contemporary troupe called the 605 Collective—one that was launched from, and named for, the couple’s live-work studio.
“When we started out, Ballet BC was completely something else and never seemed up our alley,” Martin says, referring to the days before current artistic director Emily Molnar took over in 2009. “Now, the more and more I go to Ballet BC shows, the more I want to be up on-stage. I love the atmosphere they have now and I feel like we’re kind of aligned a bit.”
Not that it’s always easy to juggle everything they have going on. On this day, during rehearsal at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, Martin is bouncing baby Loa while encouraging the dancers to assert a bit more individuality in their movement. Suddenly, the infant starts grasping his face with her tiny hand. He perseveres for a moment, then stops. “This is ridiculous,” he says, prompting laughter in the studio, passing the child to Gelley.
Teaming up with Ballet BC, the couple says after the rehearsal, offers the chance to work with not just more dancers but also virtuosically honed ones. It also lets them play with the huge space of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage.
“The biggest thing is that it has allowed Josh and I to choreograph from the outside together,” says Gelley. “Typically, at least one of us is dancing.”
“When we do our own work, it’s full-on,” Martin adds. “It’s just nice to have an artistic team already set up here. It takes the weight off so that, really, it’s you and the dancers.”
The ideas the pair are exploring with the new piece are a continuation of themes they’ve pursued at 605, especially with last year’s Vital Few: the role of the individual in a larger group, and concepts of unison and harmony within that pack.
“It’s about ‘How do we show at the beginning this pure unison they’re fighting against, and then developing and adding different voices to the room?’ ” Martin explains.
Working with the Ballet BC members on the piece they’re calling Anthem has helped the 605 duo see its own movement more clearly. Some things, like lifts, are much easier for the troupe than for him, Martin concedes. But the dancers, so trained in extension, are also having to adapt to 605’s ground-hugging, street-inflected style.
“There are qualities that we have inside our movement that you don’t realize before you teach them to someone else. They’re [the dancers are] so open and long, whereas we come back to be compact a lot,” Martin says.
What’s most striking, Martin and Gelley say, is how quickly these versatile dancers can learn.
It’s just such an opportunity Molnar wanted to offer in Program 2, which will show Company 605’s premiere alongside local star Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo and new work by two other innovative Vancouver choreographers: Wen Wei Wang and Lesley Telford.
“I wanted to focus on Canada’s 150th because I thought it would be a chance to go even deeper into our community,” she tells the Straight in a separate interview at the Dance Centre.
“Company 605 was built from the ground up,” she continues. “I also wanted to show the different areas of dance here. So it’s about this company [Ballet BC] being able to touch on all the bases of contemporary dance today.”
Company 605’s work will contrast with other pieces on the program. Wang’s six-dancer piece reinterprets “The Dying Swan” from Swan Lake, while Telford’s pas de deux is set to the work of spoken-word artist Barbara Adler. Pite’s Solo Echo, meanwhile, reflects the celebrated Betroffenheit artist’s penchant for theatricality, atmosphere, and complex sculptural forms.
In all, Program 2 is a sign of the tremendous strength and diversity of the dance scene here—one that’s garnering the attention of the world. Pite is working everywhere from the Paris Opera Ballet to the Royal Ballet; Ballet BC celebrated its debut in the U.K. this year; and many troupes, like 605, are getting invited to show their work around the globe.
Molnar credits the thriving scene in part to the training that dance artists receive at places like Arts Umbrella, SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and Modus Operandi.
“We have these great dancing environments producing dancers who are then staying here, making work,” she says. “And we have the audience here, as well: that’s an important component too. There’s a ton of courage in this environment.”
Martin concurs that Vancouver’s dance world is buzzing right now and refers to his company’s own trajectory as proof. “It feels like the longer we’ve been going, the more we’ve felt community building. And that’s why Vancouver is doing as well as it’s doing. It’s the way it is connected,” he says. “There’s a really nice ecology here and Ballet BC is a part of that.”
Collaborations like Program 2 can only help dance continue to boom here. As Martin says with a smile: “Now that I know what’s possible, I want to come back and do it again.”
Ballet BC presents Program 2 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from Thursday to Saturday (March 16 to 18).