Ballet B.C.'s In/Verse mixes fun and edge in season opener
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, November 22. Continues until November 24
It began with dancers in tight body suits angling under the glare of cold fluorescent lights, and it ended with dancer Gilbert Small—decked out in emerald satin pants and a pink shirt—blowing a kiss to the audience. With its season opener, Ballet B.C. made it clear it’s willing to push to extremes, but it wants to have fun and get friendly with its audience, too.
The Queen E.’s lobby was buzzing and the house was full up into the mezzanine—a good sign. When the show started, the audience was hit right off the bat with a bracing blast of Euro avant-garde. Italian Jacopo Godani’s A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art) opened with Paris-born newcomer Thibault Eiferman and Connor Gnam extending, convulsing, and swivelling under the rows of fluorescents. They were joined by 13 others, and the piece became a whirl of offset groups that would freeze and explode, with dancers snaking and arching their spines like they were made of Plasticine.
The piece was set to the punishing rhythms of German duo 48nord, who created a mix of driving, electro-fuelled percussion and zipping strings. Faced with the intricacy of the warp-speed movement and complex patterning, the dancers were clearly working hard. A few really got it to feel effortless, though, freeing themselves to its pummelling demands—the most noticeable being Eiferman, who proved to be a standout throughout the evening. Suited in blue undies and tight skin-coloured tops marked to look like anatomical drawings, the dancers resembled androids but moved organically, like masses of molecules that would bump up together, conjoin, and then burst apart. Buzzing under the cold glare, it was abstract and dizzying in its complexity—sophisticated but edgy.
American choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s Muse had a similar mood, with its shadowy lighting, but it blazed with more heart and humanity. A world premiere, it found the women en pointe and the men engaged in endless, innovative partnering. A highlight was Darren Devaney and Dario Dinuzzi’s pas de deux, a study in balance and support; they’d join hands and lean away from each other at hazardous angles, or prop up a handstand that then folded into something else entirely. At another moment, an expressive Rachel Meyer seemed to rouse Devaney from a depressed slumber through her fingertips alone. And there was some creative play with a long white mat that Devaney actually rolled to wrap himself up in at one point. Muse was balletic and inventive, but endlessly relatable. Ever had a morning when you just couldn’t face getting up until somebody helped you?
The real surprise of the evening, though, was the treat that Ballet B.C. artistic director Emily Molnar had in store for the audience—the candy-sprinkled cupcake she served as dessert for the evening. So often, we see the dancers in serious, dark work. In fact, there was actually a collective gasp and scattered applause when the curtain rose on the performers decked out in an eye-searing array of turquoise, orange, pink, and yellow, set against a white background.
What followed was a full-corps piece that showed off their considerable comic talents—but without pandering or descending into mugging. And beneath its witty choreographic play, set to John Zorn’s klezmer-driven Book of Angels, it had virtuosic dance chops. The manic rhythms sent the sock-footed dancers creeping and shuffling in huddles across the stage or prancing around in warped courtship rituals. Devaney lurched, mantislike, toward Livona Ellis, only to be dissed; Eiferman, transfixing in one weird solo, sidled around, focusing his hands into imaginary binoculars. At other points, Devaney spazzed out while the others snuck off the stage, and a group of men blew Alexis Fletcher tumbling across the floor.
It is one of the funnest pieces the troupe has ever brought to an audience, and one of the most absurd and whimsical works Molnar has created. As great as it is to scale the dark edge of contemporary work, it’s good to see Ballet B.C. smiling again.