Ballet B.C.'s 3 Fold is an adrenaline rush

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A Ballet B.C. production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, November 17. Continues until November 19

As images go, it was hard to tell which one was more mind-blowing. In Robert Glumbek’s new Diversion, dancers hurtled out of the darkness like they were being hurled by King Kong, landing in Gilbert Small’s arms as he walked in a square spotlight. As soon as he would set one down, another flailing body came at him. Then there was the sea of sepia-glowing light bulbs descending on long strings around the dancers in Walter Matteini’s hypnotic Parole Sospese.

Ballet B.C.’s cutting-edge season opener was full of these kinds of hallucinatory surprises. If you submitted to its different moods, the rewards were big. What a mix. Set to pummelling electronica, Polish-born Torontonian Glumbek’s work was aggressive, fast, and contemporary, and found strange new ways for dancers to move en pointe—lunging, squatting, swivelling at the waist, and wobbling on their toes. Italy’s Matteini achieved a strange, dreamlike poetry with delirious glimpses of dancers waltzing, freezing like broken music-box ballerinas, and lying down like corpses—all while a tuxedoed Jed Duifhuis bowed, waltzed, and sprinkled invisible magic dust. And former Ballet B.C. dancer Simone Orlando’s Doppeling found all the dancers in wigs and androgynous, skin-coloured body suits, playing with concepts of classical ballet.

This kind of bold, contemporary choreography is challenging, but it’s obvious the fearless corps is up to the task. This season, artistic director Emily Molnar has added some exciting new talent to the roster. A standout was cropped-haired American Rachel Meyer, who really nailed the odd mix of grace, awkwardness, and explosive power in Diversion. At one point she skitters toward Connor Gnam sideways on her hands and feet, her limbs bent up and moving like a broken spider, and he raises her in an achingly sensual lift. Daniel Marshalsay gives ’er in a muscular duet with Racheal Prince, and yet finds a delicacy in the refined, gender-bending ballet moves of Doppeling. And Vancouver’s own Alexander Burton, an Arts Umbrella grad, also has charisma to burn. Just watch him master the right tone in the deadpan routine with Peter Smida that opens Parole Sospese, an almost carnivalesque vignette that ends with them falling face-first into the floor.

If there is any complaint about the program (I’m reaching here), it’s that Glumbek and Matteini’s creations, programmed side by side, are so literally dark, playing with the shadows and the idea of figures emerging from the black. However, Orlando’s blast of Johann Sebastian Bach and a glowing-pink back screen offer some respite.

The larger concern is how to draw mass audiences to ballet that is this new. The crowd was wildly appreciative on opening night, but it was far from sold-out. The question is not whether people will like the work here; this kind of virtuosity, physical power, and surreal yet emotionally engaging imagery is pretty hard to dislike. This is cool stuff, people, and it gets the adrenaline going to watch a company take these kinds of risks. But for anyone who is used to strict definitions of ballet, it’s hard to even picture what pieces this contemporary are like. Bodies hurtling out of the darkness and lurching around like busted dolls and spiders? The 3 Fold program is strange and sometimes haunting, but it’s also deeply human: we’re all creatures frantically partnering and throwing ourselves around in the dark, aren’t we? However you read these works, though, the main thing is you have to see them to get them.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
mills
"The crowd was wildly appreciative on opening night, but it was far from sold-out". This is mystifying to me when in Seattle you can have sold out audiences for most PNB shows. What is it about dance+Vancouver that equals non interest? Ballet BC has grown by leaps and bounds, yet it still struggles. I don't know what they can do to get people in the seats. They have tried everything...
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RachelR
Make it more affordable. National Ballet in Toronto offers 20 dollar tickets to people under 30 day of, same with Symphony....12 dollars under 35. Everything in Van is super expensive.... I drive to Seattle and can see more shows for my buck. TONS of talent in Van but no one embraces it. It's a real shame....
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Richard Berrow
RachelR, that certainly hasn't been my experience in Seattle. Last spring, my wife and I paid US$120 for the best seats at the PNB's Giselle -- compared to $79 at Ballet BC. Likewise for the seats further back. It's way more expensive in Seattle. And even so, the curtain speech was all about asking for money (the American way?), quite unlike the pleasant welcome that we hear from Emily at BBC. The fact is that BBC is quite affordable, amazingly efficient, and they simply can't afford to run it for less. The reality is that we're getting exciting, creative, techically adept and world class (forgive me that well worn phrase) contemporary ballet for a modest ticket price. You just need to price it appropriately in your own mind. A night out at the ballet three times a year costs a lot less than most people spend in a month on cable, wine, magazines, movies and so on. You can see one ballet for the price of 6 movies (if you want an A seat; less if you're happy further back). You just have to decide what you want. So if any of your friends are the kind of people who'd rather spend their money on TV, movies, and so on, tell them not to pretend that they're into the arts, and certainly not the art of ballet -- they're not.
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Marky
The Arts in Vancouver are more expensive. I'm here from T.O. over a year ago. The venues there can offer the rush seating, early weekday performances at a reduced rate, PWYC, 2 for 1, etc. Gives people who can't usually afford it to check it out & maybe become repeat patrons?
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