Review: Ballet BC’s “Program 1″
Vancouver patrons of the performing arts have come to expect things from Ballet BC, especially in recent years. Ever pushing the envelope, defying expectations, and defying the odds, the premiere dance company has become the go to in terms of avant garde performance art. This year, the company launched their new season in style with a one two punch of polar opposite works, both invoking the spirit of artistry in completely different yet equally enchanting ways.
Typically known for their evenings of three part works, this time Ballet BC shook up the formula for Program 1 by shaving off one act and giving more stage time to each of the remaining two components. This switch up was a welcome change as it left less time waiting in between acts and allowed the audience to stay attentive to the performance more easily without continually switching back to real life during multiple intermissions.
In terms of theming, atmosphere, and aesthetic, the evening’s two parts could not have been more different. What’s unique and interesting though, is that as vastly polarizing Cayetano Soto and Johan Inger’s respective visions were, the evening felt remarkably cohesive thank you to the talent of Ballet BC and their penchant for maintaining quality for the whole two hour performance.
The evening began with Soto’s gothic, stark turn in the form of Eight Years of Silence. The extended, multiple part World Premiere was set to a soundtrack of synths and strings, creating an ominous, eerie vibe that would match in tone right from the opening curtain.
With the dancers outfitted in Soto’s own costume design of dark, wet looking fabrics and the stage barely lit, the dark minimalism vibe was evident and haunting. Soto claims Eight Years of Silence deals with subject matter of human fears, and that was portrayed both effectively and beautifully. Despite the entire piece acting like a creeping notion of anxiety, it was also quite stunning in its vision. The dancers really gave their all in this performance, never holding back from pushing themselves to the edge of Soto’s challenging and revolutionary choreography.
With a midway fake ending, Soto’s cast reemerged with even more to Silence than first seemed apparent. Though it did end up feeling a bit long, that may have ultimately been the point– to push the audience along with the artists onstage. When the curtain finally fell, it was safe to say everyone in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was somewhat breathless.
After a brief break, the curtains opened once again, this time with a massive, lush looking shag carpet covering the bulk of the stage. Instantly, the artists began shuffling around the stage in an efficient, quirky manner that resembled ants carrying food back to their queen. This was the beginning of Jonah Inger’s B.R.I.S.A.
Admittedly by Inger himself, B.R.I.S.A., Spanish for “wind”, was inspired by change and awakenings. It was odd to see this work premiering in fall as it did seem to have a somewhat spring rebirth feel to it, but seasons aside, B.R.I.S.A. easily stole the show this evening as the stronger of the two works. Thanks to its edgy, genre-hopping choreography, a sweeping Nina Simone soundtrack, and its use of props, B.R.I.S.A. was an absolute delight to watch.
Bringing foreign objects onstage in the middle of a ballet performance can go wrong quite easily, but nothing about Inger’s choices felt gratuitous. In fact, it was quite the objects. The dancers, the atmosphere, and their props all acted as maneuvers to effectively develop a narrative that moved like an emotional rollercoaster. There were happy moments, dark ones, and everything in between.
As B.R.I.S.A. came to a close, it was evident that Ballet BC is still scratching the surface in terms of what they can come up with to move and inspire audiences. The wheel will forever be reinvented with Ballet BC at the helm.
Header photograph: Emily Chessa, Brandon Alley & Justin Rapaport in Eight Years of Silence by Cayetano Soto as part of Ballet BC’s presentation of Program 1. All photographs by Michael Slobodian.