A Ballet B.C. presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, October 17. Continues until October 19
It’s not that the women weren’t as stunning as usual at Ballet B.C.’s season opener, Tilt. Makaila Wallace movingly channelled insanity in the postscript of Johan Inger’s Walking Mad; Rachel Meyer and Livona Ellis were sensual and angular as they lost themselves in Emily Molnar’s edgy new 16 + a room; and Alexis Fletcher spun like a mini-tornado crossing the stage in Jorma Elo’s I and I am You.
But what’s most striking about this mixed program is the way it shows off the company’s ever-stronger male contingent. From the comical hijinks of Dario Dinuzzi kicking his feet up the walls in Mad, to the exhilarating, bare-chested lines of torso-twisting, twirling young figures in I and I am You, the men in this company pulled off as many physical feats as emotional shifts. Ballet is so often characterized by the prettily posed woman on pointe shoes, but we are lucky in this city to have such a versatile, charismatic corps of guys willing to commit themselves to whatever adventure is thrown at them.
And adventure was definitely what this program served up. Even in Elo’s opening piece, a premiere by the coveted Finnish choreographer, there was a compelling, off-kilter twist to the gracefully athletic whirling and partnering. While the group would move in sculptural patterns toward the side of the stage, Darren Devaney might lurch across the stage in a wobbly walk, Alexander Burton might swivel his torso and scoop the air with his arched arms, or Daniel Marshalsay might break into some unexpected killer jetés and airborne turns.
Set to classical strings, I and I am You had some gorgeously innovative pas de deux. In Elo’s ode to relationships where a couple has an almost instinctual bond, Burton hoisted Wallace high, turning her end over end, then dipping her into a deep backward arch. Later in the work, three men supported their partners’ straight bodies in front of them, like that old magic act where the woman seems to float, stiff, in the air.
It all flowed balletically, at high speed, with the warmth and force of some strangely beautiful chinook. The opening-night audience went wild for it, and was treated to a surprise high jeté from off-stage by the hyperenergized Elo himself during the curtain call.
Next up, Molnar’s 16 + a room was a thrilling testament to the artistic director’s drive to push her company in new directions. Setting the work to Dirk P. Haubrich’s industrial soundscape of snaps, bangs, and whirs against droning notes, it was a flurry of groups rushing on-stage, frantically partnering, extending high and lunging deep, and freezing momentarily before rushing off again. They're ever-shifting, never finding an equilibrium. Here again, huddles of men appeared in powerful, sculptural combinations. With all those 16 moving bodies being driven to the limit, and the growing cacophony of noise and flashing lights, it was an intense experience; it felt scrambled and busy, and worked best when you just submitted to its hectic pace. The ending was unforgettable, with the dancers standing in the dim light, jerking, so it looked like they were stuck in a glitchy video.
And if you missed Inger’s surreal Walking Mad when it debuted at Ballet B.C. in spring 2012, here’s your chance to catch this theatrical little treat. Set, with an ironic twist, to Maurice Ravel’s looping Boléro, it’s a clever fever-dream of boys chasing girls around an ingenious, wooden-fence–like wall that folds, hides secret doors, and even topples over to become a dance floor. Some of its wittier surprises are best left unsaid; suffice it to say, there’s an inspired section when the men in the troupe pelvic-thrust while wearing little, red, conical birthday hats, and there’s an astonishing moment when the fence enfolds Fletcher, an outcast from the group, in a triangular prison. There’s also a brilliant switch in gears, when all the goofiness gives way to the final pas de deux by Wallace and Gilbert Small, set to Arvo Pärt’s haunting Für Alina, which, unlike the preceding madness, delves into the real, distracted darkness of a troubled mind.
That unexpected vignette rounds off an entire program that defies expectation—which of course is what audiences have come to expect from Ballet B.C.