Ballet B.C.'s Bliss hits an emotional high
A Ballet British Columbia production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, May 10. Continues until May 12
After Bliss’s aching second movement, people scattered throughout the audience were reduced to tears; following its exhilarating third, they jumped out of their seats and cheered.
You usually don't see emotions running this high at a contemporary-ballet performance, but choreographer José Navas has a rare ability to tap feelings both viscerally and immediately. It’s all the more impressive because he moves his dancers in such mathematical, complicated structures. Here’s art that fully feeds both sides of the brain.
The show was billed as Ballet B.C.’s first full-evening work since its near financial death in 2009. But it actually features three decidedly different pieces, each with its own strengths.
The opening section, “Annunciations”, is the most conservative of the trio. Set to classically pretty Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it finds the dancers twirling and jeté-ing across the stage in formal patterns. It doesn’t really get exciting until the third movement, which starts in silence, the only sound the tap-tap of female dancers, one by one, starting to tiptoe on the spot, high en pointe. Later, women whirl hypnotically across the stage on their toes, arms outstretched straight, like maple keys propelling themselves around in the wind. And it ends with an arresting solo by Rachel Meyer, sidling about on tiptoe, alone against a midnight-blue screen, arms reaching and undulating sensually in a gorgeous finale.
The second work, “A Thousand Ways to Meet You Tenderly”, runs in stark contrast to the first’s classical beauty. The curtain rises on a stage that has been stripped bleakly to its flies, creating an immediate sense of emptiness and rawness. Set to Henryk Gorecki’s haunting Symphony No. 3, it finds four male and four female dancers facing each other from either side of the stage, seated on stark black chairs. They’re not wearing bodices or pointe shoes here; they arrive in antique black lace dresses and black pants with dress shirts, removing their street shoes to dance barefoot. Over and over, couples meet at the centre, moving in canon, in endless circling evocations of grief. Men shuffle crouched over, cradling their heads in the women’s stomachs, and then turning to lie down in their arms. Women jump into the men’s embrace, wrapping their legs around their partners’ torsos, and whirling around and around. Here’s where you see the amazing emotional transparency of these dancers, particularly Dario Dinuzzi, Connor Gnam, and Alexis Fletcher. As the sobbing strings build, the work becomes more complex and high-speed, with bodies acting out their grief in calligraphic strokes and apostrophes across the stage. It perhaps ends a little too on point, but the effect was obvious from the audience members trying to pull themselves together at intermission.
The final section, “The bliss that from their limbs all movement takes”, which premiered as a stand-alone piece here in 2010, remains the highlight of the evening—and if you’ve never seen it, here’s your chance. In a meld of contemporary and en pointe movement, the dancers fly at warp speed through space as composers Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass continually up the ante on the tempo. It builds to a blur of twirling, intersecting bodies, the entire corps in candy-coloured leotards. What a rush.
It’s interesting to compare the emotional high of pieces like this to other contemporary-ballet experiments—say, to the cold remove of Navas’s fellow Montrealer Edouard Lock when he moves dancers en pointe. Audiences like art to speak to their souls, and the packed house responded loudly and clearly to Navas’s sophisticated yet heartfelt approach to ballet. He’s a perfect match for Ballet B.C., which, as it wraps up its season, seems to have found its bliss.