Review: Ballet BC's "Program 1"

Review: Ballet BC’s “Program 1″

A new dawn awakens at Ballet BC.

The company returns for its 30th season, but as the past few years have shown, Ballet BC is only getting started in terms of innovating and rejuvenating the arts scene here in Vancouver. Recent triumphs have shown a dedication and a commitment to the company’s claim as the premiere dance outfit in the province. And on this night, the company kick-started its newest season with a stripped down title, Program 1. Call it a blank canvas if you will, as the program’s performances were a trio of loosely connected, deeply interpretive pieces that leave a lot of room for audiences to speculate in terms of concept, narrative, and hidden meanings.

Shaking up the evening from its usual format, Artistic Director Emily Molnar mentioned that tonight, the fan favourite from a past season, “Twenty Eight Thousand Waves,” would be starting the show off rather than being the finisher.

“Waves” debuted last year at Ballet BC’s April 2014 presentation of UN/A, and was the true standout from that production, so it made complete sense to see the company bring it back for a second life. Spanish-born Cayetano Soto’s performance hit just as many notes on this night as it did in its premiere, bringing back the unique choice of raising and lowering its internal lighting rigs throughout the piece. Sometimes blinding the audience and sometimes drawing shadows on the dancers, this production affect is the perfect personification of “Waves,” in that the entire piece creates movement that the audience is left to figure out.

Atypical costuming choices, gritty music, and a dozen performers bring Soto’s work to life in a perfect realization that draws out thematic elements of life and death. But even with all its technical flair, artistic nuances, and aesthetic marks, it’s the stunning choreography that takes center stage here, mostly executed in jaw-dropping duets that feel both haunting and endearing as they tease and torment with love and rebirth in repeating thematic visual cycles.

Awe_Dress_05112015_107 photo©Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC dancer Andrew Bartee and Artists of Ballet BC in Stijn Celis’s “Awe” as part of Ballet BC’s presentation of Program 1. All photographs by Michael Slobodian.

Wedged in the middle of the set was likely the weakest moment of the performance, a World Premiere in Stijn Celis’s “Awe.” The real issue here for “Awe” overall was a somewhat undefined edge, never fully realized in its concept and somewhat lacklustre compared to its fellow works within Program 1.

That isn’t to say that pieces of “Awe” did not inspire and entertain. Backed behind Ballet BC’s team of performers was local Vancouver men’s choir Chor Leoni. The massive ensemble provided a chilling, cold soundtrack that completely set the tone for “Awe” as a desperate, searching work of art that maintained its themes in loss and turmoil. Thematically, it has a lot of interesting pieces of work as well as some interesting choreography, but the piece overall did not retain the potency and tightness that Ballet BC has built its name on.

Solo Echo_Dress_05112015_170 photo©Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC dancers Christoph von Riedemann, Andrew Bartee, Emily Chessa, Scott Fowler, Kirsten Wicklund, Alexis Fletcher & Brandon Alley in Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo” as part of Ballet BC’s presentation of Program 1. All photographs by Michael Slobodian.

To finish the evening off, the much-anticipated “Solo Echo” stole the show, thanks to a completely unique choreography mixture by Crystal Pite, a well-paired soundtrack featuring work by Brahms, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax, and one of the most beautiful sights to likely ever grace the Queen Elizabeth’s stage: a consistant, as-close-to-real-as-possible backdrop of falling snow that instantly placed the scene in a cold, surveillance-like locale that made it seem like you were spying on a scene of lost souls in a forest. These lost souls, of course, just happen to be dancing beautiful motions with their bodies as if they were lost woodland creatures searching for comfort.

Pite’s piece truly lived up to expectations and was a brilliant way for Ballet BC to close the curtain on their season debut. As Molnar mentioned in her opening remarks, the evening was set to inspire. Truly, overall Program 1 explores themes in contemporary ballet that are both unexpected and enchanting. what the company has going for itself is the talent to back up these concepts in a big way with strong, confident movement that impresses technically as well as artfully. Surely, this is set to be a season full of surprises and thrills.

Header photograph: Ballet BC dancers Gilbert Small, Scott Fowler & Alexis Fletcher in Cayetano Soto’s “Twenty Eight Thousand Waves” as part of Ballet BC’s presentation of Program 1. All photographs by Michael Slobodian.

Ballet BC’s Program 1 plays at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre through November 7. Tickets are available here.