ARTS

As she pre­pares to launch her 10th sea­son at the helm of Bal­let BC, Emily Mol­nar looks back as well as boldly ahead.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - Janet Smith by

Scream­ing elec­tric gui­tar and bal­let aren’t nec­es­sar­ily things you would as­so­ciate with each other. But, sure enough, Jimi Hen­drix’s Blues al­bum is blast­ing from the Bal­let BC re­hearsal-stu­dio stereo as dancers race and slide across the floor. The troupe mem­bers, who have made an in­ter­na­tional name for their fear­less­ness, are tap­ping a new kind of en­ergy.

They’ve found their groove—an apt metaphor to mark artis­tic di­rec­tor Emily Mol­nar’s 10th sea­son helm­ing the com­pany.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to do some­thing with blues or jazz mu­sic,” says Mol­nar, who chore­ographed the new un­ti­tled work for the sea­son opener, re­lax­ing af­ter­ward in a nearby empty stu­dio. “What I’m at­tracted to in blues is that such sor­row is sung through joy. It’s the op­po­si­tion of the very dark with the up­lift­ing. There’s a wild­ness and chaos.…it’s about liv­ing and be­ing hu­man.”

The con­fi­dence, the free­dom, and the voice the com­pany is ex­press­ing are an apt cel­e­bra­tion of what Bal­let BC has ac­com­plished in just un­der a decade. When Mol­nar took the reins, Bal­let BC’S fu­ture was un­cer­tain, its fi­nances grim enough for it to file for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion, and it hadn’t toured in years. Slowly, me­thod­i­cally, she’s re­built its rep­u­ta­tion—lo­cally, na­tion­ally, and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The com­pany en­ters the 2018-19 sea­son fi­nan­cially sta­ble, with a plan to tour for 12 weeks—the max­i­mum it can han­dle, and a dream Mol­nar has brought to fruition. Amid its planned stops: Lux­em­bourg and Darm­stadt, Ger­many, in De­cem­ber, Tel Aviv and Al­berta in Jan­uary, and ad­di­tional vis­its across Canada, the U.S., and Eu­rope in the spring. The troupe is rid­ing the buzz it re­ceived on a jaunt ear­lier this year to the U.K., when it sold out Lon­don dance mecca Sadler’s Wells and the In­de­pen­dent praised its “gor­geous en­ergy”.

Tour­ing, Mol­nar says, has helped the com­pany grow. “It de­vel­ops a larger con­ver­sa­tion with mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties,” she ex­plains. “The com­mon­al­ity be­tween the au­di­ences has been that they say, ‘We see so many com­pa­nies where one or two [dancers] stand out, but with this one all of them stand out with the same in­ten­tion.’”

In ad­di­tion, the artis­tic di­rec­tor has brought on two new emerg­ing artists (formerly called ap­pren­tices), mak­ing five now in to­tal, mean­ing there are a lot of fresh faces in the Blues piece. “We’re de­vel­op­ing ideally to­ward a ju­nior com­pany, a Bal­let BC 2,” she re­veals.

It’s all on her mind as Bal­let BC launches a strate­gic plan this sea­son, set­ting out its goals for the next three years and be­yond.

“The first 10 years are al­ways hard, but maybe more ob­vi­ous about what needs to be done,” Mol­nar ex­plains, adding that when she be­gan, the main ob­jec­tive was sim­ply to mount a show. “Now it’s a more in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion. The growth for us is con­tin­u­ing to ask ques­tions, to hold true to our pi­o­neer­ing spirit of 10 years ago, to chal­lenge the way we’re do­ing things.… What does it mean to be a dance artist in this coun­try right now?”

With all these ideas swirling through her mind, Mol­nar has crafted a sea­son that point­edly pays trib­ute to what the com­pany has achieved, while push­ing it for­ward into new ter­rain. In Pro­gram One, she brings back an au­di­ence favourite, Pe­tite Céré­monie, Paris Opera Bal­let and Ned­er­lands Dans The­ater alum­nus Medhi Waler­ski’s whim­si­cal mix of white boxes and dancers in for­mal black tuxe­dos and dresses.

“It was our first con­ver­sa­tion with Medhi, and he was an emerg­ing chore­og­ra­pher at the time, so it has nos­tal­gia for us,” says Mol­nar. “When you see the piece to­day it is still in­cred­i­bly fresh and alive. And also, we’re still very much that com­pany.”

Shar­ing the pro­gram is Wil­liam Forsythe’s 1989 work En­emy in the Fig­ure, with its ex­treme, speed-of­sound bal­letic move­ment and its be­yond-vir­tu­osic tech­nique, all set to Thom Willems’s driv­ing elec­tro score, and with a cen­tral rope prop. “A rea­son for bring­ing it is be­cause of what it does for the dancers,” en­thuses Mol­nar, who has been hop­ing to mount the piece, by her for­mer men­tor at Frank­furt Bal­let, here for years. “The dancers are re­spon­si­ble for mov­ing a lot of the set pieces and the lights and the rope. And the au­di­ences are gifted with see­ing some­thing built in 1989 and still rel­e­vant. It’s such a fully re­al­ized piece of theatre—a gor­geous piece of ar­chi­tec­ture.”

Con­trast­ing both those works on the pro­gram is her own Blues­based cre­ation—a work she’s us­ing to show­case the dancers, who built it us­ing their own solo riffs on Hen­drix’s in­deli­ble mu­sic.

“Blues was a de­vel­op­ment of mu­sic for a com­mu­nity of peo­ple that were labour­ing,” Mol­nar elab­o­rates. “That made me think, ‘What is voice, col­lec­tive voice, in­di­vid­ual voice?’ ”

She also took a lot of in­spi­ra­tion from the era when Hen­drix made the mu­sic, be­tween 1966 and 1970, though the al­bum was re­leased posthu­mously. It was a time of revo­lu­tion and free­dom, of ev­ery­thing from Wood­stock to Martin Luther King and civil rights.

“That’s the en­ergy: ‘To­day is all we have,’” Mol­nar says.

As it turns out, the chal­lenge hasn’t been so much get­ting a group of highly honed bal­let dancers to tap their raw in­di­vid­u­al­ity; it’s been pre­serv­ing that spon­ta­neous en­ergy for when it fi­nally hits the stage.

“Yes, the re­search pulls peo­ple to places they weren’t aware they were ca­pa­ble of,” Mol­nar says. “But I cre­ated a place with them where they’re con­nect­ing with sen­sa­tion, so they built a very per­sonal con­nec­tion. And the chal­lenge has been ‘How do we keep that essence?’ ”

It’s a ques­tion, it seems, that she’ll be ap­ply­ing to the whole sea­son, and the next decade to come.

At left, Bal­let BC artis­tic di­rec­tor Emily Mol­nar works on the new piece for her 10th-sea­son opener; right, dancers Zenon Zubyk and Racheal Prince pre­pare works be­fore the busiest tour­ing sea­son yet. Pho­tos by Michael Slo­bo­dian.

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