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.