Review: Ballet BC's "No. 29"

Review: Ballet BC’s “No. 29″

Ballet BC has embraced its dark side in its season premiere. No. 29, which marks the launch of the institution’s 29th year as well as its 29th new original work since Artistic Director Emily Molnar overhauled the company under her leadership, contains countless eerie twists and turns, and was chosen to cap off the company’s 2014/15 season.

When looking at a work with multiple parts, it’s often easy to get caught up searching for over-arching themes and forget that three separate artistic teams created these works individually. But in No. 29, the company has seemingly either collaborated on concepts or luckily ended up with a body of work that is altogether cohesive while maintaining the parts’ individual unique assets.

Themes of restlessness, despair, and soul searching inhabit much of these works, but there’s also an artful beauty laced in to each component of this three-part premiere. A darkness lurks in No. 29 in all three components.

Beginning with the trio’s most conceptually daring and innovative piece, No. 29 kicks off with “A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art.)” The reprise of Italian choreographer Jacopo Godani’s was a part of Ballet BC’s 2012 season and returns as part of No. 29 as the fan favourite.

Dancers Scott Fowler & Connor Gnam in Jacopo Godani's "A.U.R.A.", as part of Ballet BC's No. 29.

Dancers Scott Fowler & Connor Gnam in Jacopo Godani’s “A.U.R.A.”, as part of Ballet BC’s No. 29.

Much of Godani’s daring and bolt atmosphere is recreated here in a science fiction-like aura, breathing haunting nuances throughout. With eerie fluorescent tube lighting that rises and falls over the company, “A.U.R.A.” literally blinds the audience at times, almost as if trying to make it a physical challenge to see the artists, which may be an intentional remark on surface appearances needing a closer look.

This is, after all, a work that seems to embody the notion of duality. With the dancers all outfitted in minimalist wardrobes of lines over their skin, everyone appears as an equal on the surface, but the performers’ characters come out as the piece continues, with a fierce sharpness that draws a fine line between love and war. At times the performers seem to be engaged in a romantic-like pairing, shortly before a chaotic battle ensues.

The World Premiere of “White Act” by Spanish-born choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan was the perfect centrepiece for No. 29, showing elements of avant garde cross-discipline tendencies while retaining some classical ballet elements as well.

With a video backdrop of a tree-lined walkway by Harmen Straatman, at first it’s hard to tear yourself away from the ensemble from the mammoth visual anchor onstage. But slowly it becomes familiar and comfortable, as “White Act” becomes the most linear narrative No. 29 has to offer, drawing the audience into an also Shakespearian tale of love and loss. There are moments here of complete stillness that will chill in the most captivating and beautiful of ways.

Without giving away too much, there are several clever and tricky technical tools used in “White Act” which come off with finesse and feel as much of a part of the work as the actual dancing, rather than coming off as gratuitous.

Dancers Andrew Bartee, Rachel Meyer, Nicholas Bellefleur, and Scott Fowler in Fernando Hernando Magadan's "White Act", as part of Ballet BC's No. 29.

Dancers Andrew Bartee, Rachel Meyer, Nicholas Bellefleur, and Scott Fowler in Fernando Hernando Magadan’s “White Act”, as part of Ballet BC’s No. 29.

To finish, Ballet BC calls on Vancouver’s own Lesley Telford for “An Instant”, a satisfying cool down for the evening. After the dramatic intensity of the previous two pieces, “An Instant” has much more subdued musical tones and more traditional dancing mixed in with the contemporary.

Where “A.U.R.A.” worked with the anxiety-ridden soundtrack of “48nord” creating a feeling of enclosure, “An Instant” breaks down the walls with more elegant lighting and the calming Weather One by Michael Gordon, performed by Ensemble Resonance.

Again using cross-disciplinary artistic devices, Telford borrows Amos Ben Tal’s poem “Could Have”, with the words being recited over the climax of the piece. It’s a bold decision to have an actual verbal narrative take over from Ballet BC’s ever present visual storytelling, but the remorseful, lovelorn verses compliment the atmosphere completely.

It may be more subtle than its counterparts, but “An Instant” may also be the most unsettling once it comes to a close. A tense, lost nature drives the piece, but it’s empowering and strong in its delivery thanks to the pristine dancing featuring standout Scott Fowler and the entire ensemble.

A three-part win, Ballet BC has done it again. After having all summer off to hone its collective skills and sparkle off both old favourites and brand new, exciting pieces, No. 29 is another trophy on the company’s gold streak. Here’s to number 30.

Header photograph: Alexis Fletcher and Peter Smida with artists of Ballet BC in No. 29‘s “Aura.” All photographs by Michael Slobodian.

Ballet BC’s No. 29 plays at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre through November 8. Tickets are available here.