Ballet BC’s “NOW” pushes itself to the limit

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      As the stage lights go out on the end revered local choreographer Crystal Pite’s 2016 piece The Statement and the dancers take their bows, my friend Vicki turns to me.

      “That was kind of spooky,” she says. “I liked it. But it was spooky.”

      The piece, like many of Pite’s recent works, sees the dancers moving not to music, but to a script pre-recorded by voice actors. Here, four characters are part of a company that is fuelling a war in a faraway country when they’re suddenly forced to confront their actions—and take responsibility for them. Power, pressure, guilt, defiance, and control all intertwine in a delicious work that is quintissential Pite. The dancers’ movements are somehow fluid and staccato, pushing and pulling into each other.

      After the piece ends, I hear the guy behind me tell his seatmate that it reminded him of animation. I understand what he means—part of Pite’s mastery is her ability to create tableaus within her work. The choreography ebbs and flows, the dancers’ bodies acting out the words in a way that feels genuine, not silly.

      The piece is stunning, but it is definitely tense.

      “Don’t worry,” I reassure Vicki. “I don’t think the other two pieces will be like that.”


      Next comes a world premiere by Los Angeles choreographer Micaela Taylor. Salt Conscious explores our obsession with hustle culture and the very real threat of burnout. With two lead dancers dressed in white and everyone else in black, the piece pulses and throbs through the athleticism of pushing oneself over the limit. It suffers from a few unison issues, but overall it uses interesting, at times beastly movements to portray the pitfalls of the daily grind.

      Salt Conscious by Micaela Taylor.
      Michael Slobodian.

      “That one was spooky and sexy,” Vicki says during curtain call.

      Closing out the show is the world premiere of Last Flower by local choreographer duo Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond of Out Innerspace. This ensemble piece sees the dancers dressed in Matrix-y gold suits and sunglasses, extracting resources from their home planet and eventually having to seek life elsewhere. It’s weird, but I like it; the dancers shapeshift through periods of abundance and suffering as they navigate the very essence of existence.

      “Spooky and sexy,” Vicki asserts when it’s over. “Ballet is spooky and sexy.”

      She’s not wrong. But there is much more at play here.

      As evidenced by the thunderous applause when it ends, it would seem most people in the audience have come for The Statement. This is a smart programming move by artistic director Medhi Walerski: bring back a beloved piece that will draw people in. At the same time, it takes guts to put forward the other two works in NOW. Both Salt Conscious and Last Flower are modern, experimental, and, at times, downright strange (though beautiful, too). Every company wants to claim that it pushes the boundaries, but it’s another story entirely when one of them actually does it successfully. It’s easy to fall back on a program of “safer” pieces that are guaranteed to fill seats; taking a risk on young, hungry choreographers is a much harder play.

      The reward, of course, is that Ballet BC isn’t just participating in the conversation—it’s owning it.

      NOW is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until March 9. It will also be at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey from March 22 to 23. Get tickets here.