A Ballet BC production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Friday, May 10. Continues on May 11
Ballet BC is in celebration mode for its closing show of the season. It announced at last night’s presentation of Program 3 that today, May 11, is now officially Ballet BC Day, declared by the City of Vancouver to mark artistic director Emily Molnar’s 10 years at the company. Tonight in the QE, the troupe will also host a big DJ’d party in its lobby after the performance to fete the milestone.
So it’s fitting that the mixed bill wraps with one of the biggest crowd pleasers in the group’s repertoire. One of the most famous works by Batsheva Dance Company legend Ohad Naharin, Minus 16 had the audience on its feet, clapping and whooping in the aisles. (Another reason to celebrate: Molnar revealed last night that Naharin has given the green light for the company to stage his well-known Hora for the first time in North America next season.)
Ballet BC taps all the warped, playful energy of Minus 16, revealing it as the elaborate game that it is.
As the audience pours in from intermission, Scott Fowler dances the opening’s twisted soft shoe with oddball aplomb. In the renowned scene where the dancers pull off a sort of human wave while sitting in a semi-circle of chairs, they arch back in sequence like lightning has struck them square in the chests.
Brandon Alley and Emily Chessa bring new expressive, sensual power to the midsection’s weird and wonderful pas de deux; watching her wrap her legs around his upper body then curl backwards toward the floor is breathtaking. And the surprise, audience-participation finale (no spoilers here) is as inspired as ever.
But for dance nuts, the real treat here is watching Minus 16 on the same program as Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s club-beat-driven Bedroom Folk, a North American premiere for Ballet BC and a beyond-cool addition to its roster. Eyal is an alumna of Israel’s Batsheva, and though her work has a dramatically different feel from her mentor’s, it’s fascinating to pick out similarities: the sense of humour, the groove, and the little, nonstop pulsing steps.
Set to a throbbing score by Israeli DJ Ori Lichtik, the piece opens with the dancers dressed in black bodysuits. An orange slice of light hovers at the back of the stage. Later, the darkness lifts to reveal a full Day-Glo-hued backdrop, the performers contrasting it in pale blue light.
Like Ballet BC’s previous Eyal work Bill, Bedroom Folk mixes the robotic and the fluid. Shoulders might shift back and forth mechanically, then arms undulate liquidly in the air. It’s punishing in its relentless beat, with intricately choreographed group work that the corps pulls off with unified excellence and a commitment to the aloof, replicantlike gaze.
There are some spectacular images, the women lifting their splayed hands above a row of men’s heads like alien crests. And there are flights of goofIness as individuals attempt to break free from the clone hordes: at one point Scott Fowler pushes down on Nicole Ward’s head as she jumps up and down maniacally.
This is a piece where Ballet BC can show its fierceness, and Ward and Kirsten Wicklund display a special fire.
Local choreographer Serge Bennathan’s new Poesia is the antithesis of this cold and hard-edged world. Openhearted and earnest, it is an ode to the resilience of artists, driven by the lush, electro-orchestral flurry of Bertrand Chenier’s score.
Poesia takes place on a stage opened to the wings, with several microphones on stands around the edges. Occasionally, dancers deliver Bennathan’s heartfelt poetry there, in a similar vein to the smaller, text-driven work he has done for his own Les Productions Figlio—albeit on a much bigger scale.
But it is the language of the dance that is often the most memorable, with performers finding a loose, freeing physicality, deeply swivelling at their waists, leaning far off-axis, and huddling to send their fingers grasping ravenously at the air above their heads. Amid this, the action pauses for Emily Chessa and Patrick Kilbane to have a moving, vulnerable pas de deux that evolves into a tight and desperately embracing slow dance at centre stage. Bennathan is covering all the themes here—love, art, and the profound struggle of both those things.
Ultimately, it is a program that shows the dancers' incredible versatility—from battery charged automatons to physical comedians and even surprisingly talented slam poets. For them, the season is far from over: the legendary William Forsythe has a residency here any day now, and then the troupe is off immediately for another tour, from Stuttgart to Barcelona to the name-making Jacob’s Pillow Festival in Massachusetts, where Ballet BC is already a favourite. In other words, there’s yet more to celebrate.