Review: Ballet BC’s “Program 3″
Ballet BC has never presented a show like this. In some ways, everything that came before the season closer Program 3 was a prelude to this excellence. In a stunning three act finisher, the company’s 31st season bowed out at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre with a trio of performances that questioned expectations and defied all expectations.
This season, Ballet BC has switched up their typical formula several times, rebuilding their format in new and exciting ways with changes and surprises. Tonight was no different in that Program 3 was filled with innovation and excitement. But something about this array of performances was even more exciting given the pairing of avant-garde showmanship with stunning vision and cohesive artistry. Naturally, Ballet BC is well known for pairing pristine physicality wrapped in glorious artistic packaging, and that is exactly where Program 3 shone the most.
The first work of the evening came in the form of Emanuel Gat’s LOCK. Admittedly, LOCK initially is a tough pill to swallow, filled with jarring musical accompaniment, a sterile stage design, and anxiety-inducing group movements that made it tough to relax as a spectator. But what is inaccessible on the surface is rewarding for those willing to take it all in and rifle through the individual components that make up a work’s entirety. The French choreographer has built a complex world here filled with curiosity and celebration and encased it in a guarded work that showcases vulnerabilities on the surface.
Program notes for LOCK open the door to a little secret: the choreography is meant to be a showcase on the company of Ballet BC itself, creating a mirrored view into the lives and realms of the dancers gracing the stage. This element of self reflection makes that much more sense when you realize the double edged sword that comes along with this form of artistry. Naturally with poise and flair comes insecurity and competition– LOCK invites the audience under the veil of all of these nuances of the dance world, pushing the realms of expectation and the unknown.
Ballet BC’s own Artistic Director Emily Molnar was at the helm for choreographing the second piece of the evening, the exhilarating Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming. After experiencing this glimmering tour de force, it’s safe to say we don’t get to see enough of Molnar’s work throughout Ballet BC’s seasons. Dreaming is a stunning, glorious masterpiece that is equal parts cinematic showstopper and twinkling physical fairy tale. Molnar invites the audience on an exciting ride filled with surprising twists and turns, constantly changing up the route midway and throwing in new and exciting moments. Just as you think the performance is headed one direction, it veers the opposite way, and ends up revealing more and more about itself while remaining a shape shifter.
What makes Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming really breathtaking is not the amount of twists and surprises it presents, but the resiliency of the performers throughout the work. Here we have a smaller group of artists who carry a monumental, complex work on their collective shoulders. Not a beat is missed, and not a misstep is taken. Together, Molnar and her team are able to pull off a truly magnificent piece of work that showcases creative energy at its finest, upheld by physical strength unmatched in any of the other works.
Lastly, the evening draws to a close with the most unique piece of the evening: Ohad Naharin’s diverse masterpiece Minus 16. While Gat set the tone for innovation with LOCK and Molnar broke the mold with Dreaming, Gat’s 16 truly ended the company’s season with a breathtaking display that had the entire Queen Elizabeth Theatre audience responding with multiple standing ovations, clearly impressed with the brilliance onstage.
It is hard to talk about Minus 16 without revealing too much of a spoiler, but the work itself will have a hard time finding any naysayers. We have a little bit of everything here, beginning with Scott Fowler’s unnerving solo that begins the work, all the way through to the ensemble closing act that continues even as the final curtain closes. A mixture of musical genres and dance styles, Minus 16 is both playful and contemplative, exploring an emotional narrative and story arc that is entirely the viewer’s impression as to what it’s trying to say.
We have a little bit of audience interaction, a neutral colour pallet that allows the work itself to be the focus, and a whole lot of exuberance all the way through the performance. Early on, we see the company challenged by a gauntlet of physical challenges with a synchronized, well-timed sequence that is nearly impossible in its concept but jaw dropping in its perfect execution. Every element is flawless and meticulous, and it’s easy to see why Ballet BC chose Gat’s magnificent work to close out the evening and season.
Ever innovative and thrilling, Ballet BC are consistently outdoing themselves, but something about tonight was above and beyond their usual standard. The only problem, of course, is trying to outdo this act the next time around. No doubt about it, they’ll manage to do that too.
Header photograph: Ballet BC Dancers Emily Chessa, Justin Rapaport, Scott Fowler, Christoph von Riedemann and Andrew Bartee in Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin as part of Ballet BC’s presentation of Program 3. All photographs by Michael Slobodian.