Ballet BC Program One dances from sombre abstraction to playful delights

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      A Ballet BC production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, November 2. Continues to November 4

      Ballet BC’s bold season-opening double bill feeds two extremely different parts of the brain. It also stands as a vibrant lesson in the diverse ways choreographers are upending ballet right now, and in the wild interpretive powers of our premier dance company.

      Let’s start backwards, with the second piece, because it is packed with more sweet surprises than a piñata—not the least being the troupe’s comic acting skills. As we learned with his previous effort, Walking Mad, Swedish choreographer and Netherlands Dans Theater alumnus Johan Inger loves absurdist touches, offbeat props, and earthy, all-too-human movement and emotion. With B.R.I.S.A., originally created for NDT2, he takes even more whimsical risks—and proves again that he is a singular (and sometimes wonderfully warped) voice.

      B.R.I.S.A. opens with the dancers shuffling, heads down, like introverted zombies, treading set paths along the stage’s central carpet, behind a row of hanging strings that resemble cage bars. Slowly, through the small actions of certain members of the group—including one who emerges from under the rug—they start to open up, interact, and, well, find their bliss. Much of this is accomplished through the discovery of the titular breeze—through fans, hair dryers, and other unexpected devices.

      Inger has said the work is about the winds of change, how small events can spark political and social revolutions—all underlined by Nina Simone’s soulful battle cries on the soundtrack.

      Okay, but the piece is also about sex, isn’t it? It’s huge fun watching Kirsten Wicklund when a group of guys blasts her with their blowers, their gusts rippling up her skirt and long hair: she’s in ecstasy, at first signalling them to ease off, then begging them to do it more. Check out Brandon Alley as he stops to look down at his device, forming a wide smile as he awakens to what he’s just achieved with his “instrument”. Characters run into the wind, and you can feel them feel it; Emily Chessa’s entire face lights up as she catches the breeze for the first time. (Only rarely does the action verge on mugging or mime.)

      The work is so playful that it’s easy to forget how demanding it is. Inger loves to centre the dancers low, pushing them into groin-tearing lunges. He alternates everyday gestures with technical grace, even making a few nods to folk dance, and then sends, say, Alexis Fletcher (another dramatic standout here) rolling violently across the carpet.

      With a few audience members visibly bewildered by the mayhem—(“Is this really ballet these days?” they might have been thinking)—Inger had clearly just staged a subversive little act of his own.

      Cayetano Soto's Eight Years of Silence.
      Michael Slobodian

      While Inger puts his own humorous, theatrical spin on contemporary ballet, Cayetano Soto meticulously takes ballet apart and resculpts it into new, dizzyingly abstract forms. The Catalan choreographer’s premiere, Eight Years of Silence, is a rich, virtuosic appeal to the serious dance lover. And this troupe is getting ever-better at pulling off his crisp, flickering, tornado-fast movement.

      Soto’s work can be dark, and this is no exception: the dancers performer in goldy-pewter body suits against a grim grey curtain amid dim lighting. The overcast mood is heightened by the beautifully melancholy strings of Peter Gregson’s score.

      As usual, the highlight of Soto’s work is the partnering, a swirl of scissoring and splitting legs, the women’s limbs bending crane-fly-like up and backwards around the men’s necks. It’s not all graceful; sometimes the bodies break down like broken-dolls. The shifting pas de deux and trios also feature some striking solos. Alley’s intense, body-wracking opener was a marvel of muscular detail.

      The piece is supposed to be about facing our fears, particularly of death. But Soto explores those anxieties through dancers who always maintain an icy remove and a steely stare.

      That adds to the strange, haunting feel of his mind-blowingly complex moving sculptures, though some might find it leaves them cold.

      Still, whether you prefer his more abstract visual artistry or Inger’s earthier diversions, it’s likely there’s something you’ll like on the program. One might even blow you away.

      Brandon Alley in B.R.I.S.A.
      Michael Slobodian