Ballet BC's Program 2 takes viewers from a star-spangled galaxy to a wintry night

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      A Ballet BC production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, February 28. Continues until March 2

      Ballet BC’s Program 2 takes you into three distinct worlds of dance—a testament both to the company’s ability to carve space in different ways, and also to the simple magic of lighting and set pieces.

      The mixed bill opens with a remount of Finnish master Jorma Elo’s technically challenging 1st Flash, a dizzying play on classical ballet.

      Legs scissor and arms arc at the speed of sound, all set to fellow Finn Jean Sibelius’s sobbing and angular Violin Concerto in D Minor. The dancers are at their virtuosic best here: Emily Chessa and Brandon Alley open things with a beautifully flickering pas de deux, and then Alley joins Scott Fowler in a truly punishing sequence of jetés, turns, and kicks. But what takes the piece to an atmospheric new dimension is its lighting—its row of sepia spotlights at the back of the stage, and the strange, rectangular lighting block that rises and lowers ominously over the dancers.

      From this sophisticated yet stark world, Adi Salant’s new WHICH/ONE comes as a shock to the senses: the entire corps of 17 dancers appears on a stage enveloped in a twinkling galaxy of little lights—a mix of show biz and the cosmic, befitting the Batsheva Dance Company alumna’s sly piece.

      The soundtrack is the semicheesy opening number of the musical A Chorus Line—the one in which a director auditions dancers, yelling choreographic directions (“five, six, seven, eight!”). Salant plays on the selection process, dividing the performers into different groups, but she isn’t interested in reenacting the Broadway moves. She wrings humour out of contrasting the soundtrack with what’s going on on-stage: at one point, when the musical’s director calls on the guys to step up, the men here freeze into satirical poses, then look around bewildered when they’re not chosen. Elsewhere, the dancers find their way into unison, then drop to convulse on the floor, clamp their hands over their mouths in horror, or shake each other like human maracas.

      They’re struggling to keep up appearances. You don’t have to make much of a stretch to see yourself, fighting to keep your head above the racket of our superwired everyday lives. The overriding image is of hands reaching and shaking toward the ceiling, an inspired Salant gesture that captures everything about what it is to be alive today.

      The piece kicks into a slower, more earnest gear in its second half, though it’s helped by Moritz Bard’s now haunting soundtrack, which warps the score into a dreamscape that seems to stretch time. Here the troupe moves in what often feels like slow motion. They’re lost souls until they pull it together, running in a blurred circle toward the end. The piece is an energized addition to a Ballet BC repertoire that is becoming known for its roster of singular female voices.

      The dancers of Ballet BC in Solo Echo.
      Wendy D

      Crystal Pite’s always stunning Solo Echo closes the night, offering a balletic contrast to the dance-theatre creation Revisor that she recently premiered with her own Kidd Pivot company on the DanceHouse roster. Gorgeously rendered under delicately falling snow, the piece is a meditation on mortality, our earthly bonds to loved ones, and the need, at the end, to depart alone into that wintry night. (Set to Johannes Brahms cello sonatas, it’s based on Mark Strand’s moving poem Lines for Winter, and was originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater.)

      The choreography is a study in balance, push, and pull At one point, the group, moving as one sculptural organism, pulls a dancer back across the stage; at another, it folds like a giant, interclasped caterpillar as one of itsmembers falls to the ground. It’s a piece the company’s performed before, and honed out on tour, but what stands out most on this showing is the expressivity and technical chops of some of the veterans of the troupe. While the rest of the night showcased the many new members of Ballet BC, Gilbert Small, Alexis Fletcher, Racheal Prince, Peter Smida, and Kirsten Wicklund really showed their stuff in a piece whose physical poetry and timing are as demanding as the profound emotions being conveyed.

      This is all work that demands a deep commitment—to the ideas, to the technique, and to the abstract worlds being conjured. And on that front, Ballet BC looks to be at the top of its game.

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