Ballet BC's Program 2 conveys the history of life and so much more

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      A Ballet BC presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, March 16. Continues until March 18 At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, March 16. Continues until March 18

      There are times—not often, it’s true—when snow falling in Vancouver is a benediction, not a threat. One of the prettiest instances of this took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last night, with projected snowflakes falling on-screen during the entirety of Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo. Warm rather than wintry, the piece exists in a wonderland of grace.

      Initially made for Nederlands Dans Theater and premiered in 2012, Solo Echo entered Ballet BC’s repertoire in 2015 and deserves to stay there for some time to come. As its title promises, it showcases the individual skills of dancers Brandon Alley, Andrew Bartee, Emily Chessa, Alexis Fletcher, Scott Fowler, Christoph von Riedemann, and Kirsten Wicklund, but more than that it foregrounds the immaculate unity of the current Ballet BC corps. Ensemble passages that resembled the time-lapse unfurling of a flower found the seven dancers operating as a single entity.

      And all the time that sparkling snow kept falling, further linking Pite’s movement to the elegance and power of natural forces.

      This viewer also saw the West Coast environment reflected in the first minute or so of the show-opening Anthem, jointly choreographed by Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin of Vancouver’s street-savvy Company 605. With the aforementioned dancers augmented by half a dozen more, the overall impression left by the piece was one of constant, motion—but its first passage found the dancers rooted to one place, swaying back and forth or doubling over and sometimes whipping their torsos sideways. They looked for all the world like kelp, rooted to a rocky substrate and dancing to the rhythms of a storm surge—but then they became human, enacted an urban haka, and transformed again into cyborg pop-and-lock monsters. The history of life—from algal to tribal to electromechanical—in three minutes!

      Cindi Wicklund

      The rest of the work was more abstract and seemingly more anarchic, although clearly some deep structure underpinned the movement of the pack as solo dancers each took their turn to shine. In their program notes, Gelley and Martin revealed that each performer “contributed their own movement within the creation of this piece”, and those contributions were put to effective use.

      After all that compressed, sprung-steel, 605-style motion (and an intermission), it was a shock when bright, white, construction-site lights came up on Wen Wei Wang’s Swan, revealing a shirtless von Riedemann in full extension, looking like a Nordic god. A gift to the true balletomanes in the audience—and an homage to Wang’s late partner, dance maven Grant Strate—this septet will be best understood by those well-versed in the symbolism of the original Swan Lake, referenced beautifully, knowingly, and touchingly throughout. But even modernists—perhaps especially modernists—will thrill to this work’s witty gender play, its erotic partnering, and Sammy Chien’s phantasmagorical music, made by combining Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s original ballet score with electronics and an obsessive tambourine.

      The one orphan child in the program was Lesley Telford’s If I Were 2. A duo for Chessa and Alley—or, more properly, a trio for Chessa, Alley, and spoken-word artist Barbara Adler—it was both too slight and too long for this big bill. It’s not bad: it would be a pleasure to see and hear at the Firehall, say, or on a Small Stage. But it looked a little lost in this otherwise big, bold evening of dance.