Ballet BC's Program 3 pushes the form with polish

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      A Ballet BC presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, May 12. Continues until May 14

      Opening with perfect pirouettes and ending with primal screeches, Ballet BC’s enjoyable season-closer works as a perfect illustration of how far both the dancers and the form are being pushed these days.

      First, let’s jump to the end, where the dancers tackle, for the first time, Israeli maverick Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s techno-beat-driven Bill—a piece she created for the famed Batsheva Dance Company, where she was a long-time dancer/muse and in-house choreographer.

      On its surface, it might seem to be as far removed from proper “ballet” as you can get. The dancers move in the gut-instinct, Gaga-esque movement method Eyal is trained in, exploding from their core, gyrating their hips at warp speed, lunging and squatting and flailing their arms to the point you think they might fly off. Adding to the eerie effect are their nude bodysuits and hair caked the same pale colour. All the while, Ori Lichtik’s pulsing beats drive the ever-shifting formations.

      But in the preshow talk, Eyal stressed her work is more ballet than contemporary—and when you start looking at its patterning, the intricacy of its vocabulary, and the extreme physical detail, it’s as technically and physically demanding as anything Ballet BC has ever taken on.

      It also requires the company to let loose an almost primeval force we’ve never quite seen them access before, particularly in the frenetic sequence of solos that opens the work. They’re required to be part automaton, part animal. Sometimes the troupe members look mechanical, moving in unison; at others they look possessed, emitting pterodactyl-like screeches as they move about the stage.

      The program opens with a sophisticated reminder that the troupe has rigorous ballet chops—a fact that can be forgotten when its members are doing more radical, earthbound contemporary work. In Jorma Elo’s swirling I and I am You, the dancers, dressed in soft blue, perform a flickering blur of arabesques and jêtés, their arms uplifted and propelling them through twirls—and it’s a piece that demands they perform them with high-gloss polish.

      It’s not as if the remounted work by the resident choreographer at the Boston Ballet is straight-up classical, though it is set to the strains of Johann Sebastian Bach. Elo plays with the classical form: at one point, three men carry their partners like stiff-straight boards; in the swirling sequence toward the end, Brandon Alley explodes into a one-hand stand that’s closer to breaking than ballet. But it’s a gorgeous meditation on relationships, with some truly transcendent pas de deux.

      Scott Fowler and Kirsten Wicklund in Bill.
      Chris Randle

      Wedged between these two extremes is artistic director Emily Molnar’s 16+ a room, a piece that finds an existential place where time and space can freeze and move forward. It’s hard-edged, set to Dirk P. Haubrich’s industrial score, with its metallic pulses, thunks, and whirs. Dancers en pointe run backwards or sideways like they’re in a box that’s just been tipped. It’s a hypnotic, yearning piece as humans ricochet like pinballs through the dark box of the stage—kind of like the way we’re all tossed around in life. In the end, they simply convulse—from the pressure?—in the dim light. So it’s human, but there’s also intellectual play going on here, to haunting, sometimes surreal effect.

      As it closes its 30th season, Ballet BC is boldly propelling itself forward, adding the edgy work by Eyal, and planning for a piece by Batsheva founder Ohad Naharin next season. At the same time, work like Elo’s helps it keep one pink slipper in neoclassical ballet. For now, it seems they have the dancers, and the audience (who jumped to a standing O), to forge ahead.