Ballet BC opener upends form
A Ballet BC production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, November 2. No remaining performances
Ballet BC’S bold season-opening 2 double bill fed two extremely different parts of the brain. It also stood as a vibrant lesson in the diverse ways choreographers are upending ballet right now, and in the wild interpretive powers of our premier dance company.
Let’s start backwards, with the second piece, because it was packed with more sweet surprises than a piñata—not the least being the troupe’s comic-acting skills. As we learned with his previous effort, Walking Mad, Swedish choreographer Johan Inger loves absurdist touches, offbeat props, and earthy, all-too-human movement and emotion. With B.R.I.S.A., he took even more whimsical risks.
B.R.I.S.A. opened with the dancers shuffling, heads down, like introverted zombies, treading set paths along the stage’s central carpet. Slowly, through the small actions of certain members of the group they started to open up, interact, and find their bliss. Much of this was accomplished through the discovery of the titular breeze—through fans, hair dryers, and other unexpected devices.
Inger has said the work is about the winds of change, how small events can spark political and social revolutions—all underlined by Nina Simone’s soulful battle cries on the soundtrack. Okay, but the piece is also about sex, isn’t it? It was huge fun watching Kirsten Wicklund when a group of guys blasted her with their blowers, their gusts rippling up her skirt and long hair: she was in ecstasy, at first signalling them to ease off, then begging them to do it more. Brandon Alley was hilarious, stopping to look down at his device, forming a wide grin as he awakened to what he’d just achieved with his “instrument”.
The work was so playful that it was easy to forget how demanding it was. Inger loves to centre the dancers low, pushing them into groin-tearing lunges. He alternates everyday gestures with technical grace, even making a few nods to folk dance, and then sends, say, Alexis Fletcher (another dramatic standout here) rolling violently across the carpet.
With some audience members left bewildered, Inger had clearly just staged a subversive little act of his own.
While Inger put his own humorous, theatrical spin on contemporary ballet, Cayetano Soto meticulously took ballet apart and resculpted it into new, dizzyingly abstract forms. The Catalan choreographer’s premiere, Eight Years of Silence, was a rich, virtuosic appeal to the serious dance lover. And this troupe is getting ever-better at pulling off his crisp, flickering, tornado-fast movement.
Soto’s work can be dark, and this is no exception: the dancers performed in dully metallic body suits against a grim grey curtain amid dim lighting. The overcast mood was heightened by the melancholy strings of Peter Gregson’s score.
As usual, the highlight of Soto’s work was the partnering, a swirl of scissoring and splitting legs, the women’s limbs bending crane-flylike up and backwards around the men’s necks.
The piece was supposed to be about facing our fears, particularly of death. But Soto explored those anxieties through dancers who always maintain an icy remove—an approach that might leave some viewers cold.
Still, whether you prefer his more abstract visual artistry or Inger’s earthier diversions, it was likely there was something you’d like on the program. One might even have blown you away.