Ballet B.C.'s Walking Mad and Other Works a dynamic season opener

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      A Ballet B.C. presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, March 8. Continues until Saturday, March 10

      If Maurice Ravel had any idea how Swedish choreographer Johan Inger has interpreted the music for Boléro, he’d be beaming in his grave.

      In Walking Mad, which had its Canadian premiere at Ballet B.C.’s dynamic 2012 season opener, Inger brings a party to Ravel’s pulsing score. The movement is as rambunctious as the set is clever. At first glance the single set piece doesn’t look like much: designed by Inger himself, it’s a greyish fence about 30 feet long and eight feet high. But the moment the trench-coat-clad Gilbert Small approaches the wall, it literally knocks him over, the whole thing sliding across the stage toward the audience.

      The fence becomes a piece the dancers partner with, climb up, dangle from, and push against. It has doors that performers leap through or bolt behin, it separates in various configurations, and occasionally it gently falls right over, becoming a stage upon the stage. When all nine dancers step atop it with their hats and rain coats, the scene looks like something out of a Broadway musical.

      There are laugh-out-loud scenes when the six men, wearing red birthday-party hats, thrust and gyrate their hips before a few have their own little Vogue moment. Later, the boys chase the girls, with the stand-out Livona Ellis particularly flirty as she lifts up the edges of her dress.

      When the score reaches that magnificent peak in volume, the dancers are stomping their feet and swinging their coats around them in a full-throttle frenzy.

      But Inger throws in a curve ball by ending with a heart-wrenching duet for Small and Makaila Wallace set to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s transcendent Für Alina. The pure piano notes underscore the pain of their parting.

      Walking Mad is one of those rare unforgettable dance pieces that make you sorry the party’s over.

      A sheer sense of joy also marked the world premiere of Vitulare, an ensemble piece by Aszure Barton. The New York choreographer uses cultural and choral songs from Bulgaria to Quebec. Wearing flowy tops and pants with big slits in them, the performers resemble the cast of Fame putting the funk into folk dance.

      They kick their ankles inward, quickly tap their toes on the ground, and travel across the stage in deep walking lunges. What stands out most is a sheer sense of joy. Seeing the big smiles on the dancers’ faces, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how technically demanding and physically punishing Barton’s moves are.

      Ballet B.C. artistic director Emily Molnar’s between disappearing and becoming opened the program. Although the score by Hildur Gudnadóttir is hauntingly lush, the piece is devoid of emotion, with dancers slicing the air in an austere, black-and-white environment. There’s even something creepy about the men who repeatedly come marching out onto the stage in shirtless black suits looking at a lone female dancer, their facial expressions completely blank.

      Molnar has always been a sophisticated contemporary-ballet choreographer, and her latest proves once again she’s a maven of architecturally complex movement.