Fall arts preview: Dancer Rachel Meyer is a star soloist

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      It is easy to spot Rachel Meyer on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. The dancer, who joined Ballet B.C. last season, brings to contemporary works the poise and extensions of classical ballet, but can also channel emotions in the most magnetic ways. Look no further than May’s season closer, an arresting solo in Bliss that found her sidling about on tiptoe against a midnight-blue screen, arms reaching and undulating sensually.

      Meyer is also noticeable, of course, because of her close-cropped hair—a ’do, it turns out, that she’s only had since she came to Ballet B.C. And in many ways, it’s a symbol of the bold new direction she came here to take.

      “Most of my life I had to have my hair long—I felt like I had to have a ponytail or a bun,” says the soft-spoken American dancer, sitting in an empty, echoey studio at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, wearing brown fleece and foot-warming booties between intensive rehearsals. “A couple weeks before coming here, I emailed [artistic director] Emily [Molnar] and said, ‘I always wanted to cut my hair really short, and would that be okay?’…Moving here kind of felt like a new beginning and it felt like I wanted to change a bit.”

      After growing up in Collinsville, Illinois, just outside of St. Louis, and dabbling in everything from gymnastics to jazz, Meyer knew she wanted to go to the University of Utah to give herself a strong base in strict, classical ballet. During her time there, she went one summer to train at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and became hooked on contemporary pieces.

      After graduating in 2009, she joined Houston’s Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. But when she heard that Ballet B.C. was auditioning, she felt like it might be the perfect fit. “I was looking for a company that was doing new creative works with different styles and different choreographers. I’m trying to challenge myself to do more than one style,” she explains. “And when I came to audition, everyone was really warm and welcoming.…and talking to Emily and hearing her goals and dreams was kind of what I wanted as a company member.”

      Her instincts proved right. In her debut at Ballet B.C. in choreographer Robert Glumbek’s Diversion—a striking mix of skittery, squatting pointe work—she drew raves from critics and audience members alike. And now, for 2012-13, she will feature in pieces like William Forsythe’s quirky but demanding Herman Schmerman (in January) and work with Italian choreographer of the moment Jakopo Godani (whose creation debuts November 22 to 24 at the Queen E.). She describes the latter’s approach as completely “outside of the box”. “That was fun to explore and forget what your body is trained to do,” she says of the rehearsals that happened earlier this summer.

      Meyer is clearly enjoying exploring new movement, but in Ballet B.C.’s cutting-edge work, she’s also getting to tap intense sides of herself on-stage that contrast the quiet, reserved person sitting here in the studio.

      “I really enjoy dancing pieces that have more of a story or emotional context,” she explains thoughtfully. “It’s almost like I step on-stage and I’m becoming someone else.

      “I love performing; I love the stage,” she adds. “I feel very comfortable on-stage and I feel that is something that comes out in me when I’m performing.”