Ballet BC in Minus 16. Photo ©Michael Slobodian.

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver – May 13, 2017

Program 3 closed out Ballet BC’s 2016-17 season with a triple-bill that, once again, showed the company’s brazen physical energy and unyielding explosiveness.

The evening presented a world premiere of Lock by Emanuel Gat and a Ballet BC premiere of Emily Molnar’s Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming, which was co-produced by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, where it had premiered in April.  The program ended with Ohad Naharin’s crowd-pleasing contemporary classic, Minus 16.

Emanuel Gat is credited for all of the choreography, music and lighting in Lock, though he described in the pre-show talk that this piece was created through a collaborative approach inspired by the dancers of Ballet BC.  Gat composed the piece by giving prompts of movement to the dancers, whose responses he molded into detailed phrases of choreography.  Ballet BC’s signature aesthetic of hyper-extended limbs and tilted torsos was stamped throughout the piece.  The concentration in the dancers’ deliberate exchanges with one another during the performance was palpable, such as a gaze that triggered another dancer’s  movement, or through the continuous physical contact in the duets.  Each dancer seemed to dig into the depths of their internal impulses to produce clear physical forms.  Gat’s transient, and seemingly accidental composition of shrill tings, mechanical grinding sounds and strikes of chords floated distantly over the scenes; likewise, lighting seemed to also follow its own impulses.  Lock is not definitive of any themes.  Looking through the press photos to accompany this review, I realized that none of the still images captured the qualities of this piece which ultimately was about movement.

Scott Fowler & Kirsten Wicklund in Lock. Photo ©Michael Slobodian,

Ballet BC’s artistic director, Emily Molnar, presented her choreographic talents in the suspenseful and affecting Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming, in which she, too, credited collaboration with Ballet BC dancers for the choreography.  The piece created an exciting alternate reality onstage, whose outer-worldly atmosphere was amplified by Nicole Lizée’s cinematic score and Jock Munro’s dramatic lighting design.  Bright spotlights formed illuminated capsules of space on the otherwise dark stage to which dancers ran and from which they swiftly exited.  Within those spaces, the dancers seemed to suspend fleeting emotional impulses in time, thus, forcefully magnifying the intricacies trapped in such moments.  The movement was constant and urgent, and with each sweeping lunge and reach, the dancers implied variable weights and densities in the spaces they inhabited.  Lizée’s score, a kaleidoscope of percussion, strings and brass notes, pulled us deeper and deeper into the inner realms of the world portrayed with each discordant shift in instrumentation.  The most evocative expressions were duets performed by Kirsten Wicklund and Brandon Alley,  Emily Chessa and Scott Fowler, followed by moments of unison between Alexis Fletcher and Brandon Alley; each of the pairings expressed a distinct identity.  Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming was wild, thrilling and mysterious, and, in a way that only dance could, expressed the unspeakable corners of our psyche.

Alexis Fletcher, Andrew Bartee & Emily Chessa in Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming. Photo ©Michael Slobodian.

Minus 16,  by Ohad Naharin, has been performed by many companies since its premiere in 1999 at the Nederlands Dans Theater.  High energy ensemble numbers of dancers dressed in boxy, black suit jackets and wide brimmed hats bookend two short and more meditative dances of a group of six men and a duet.  The opening number of 16 dancers seated in a semi-circle whipping their bodies into a backward arch over their chairs, set to a Passover song in Hebrew (Echad Mi Yodea), was impactful, while the closing dance invited audience members to a cheery mambo dance party onstage with the company.  The company aptly delivered the piece with their usual punch, though it also confirmed to me how inimitable the Gaga movement language is.  I couldn’t help but compare it to a performance I had seen of the same piece by the Batsheva Dance Company, where Naharin, its artistic director since 1990, developed Gaga – on which all of his works are based.  While Ballet BC achieved all the physical shapes of the choreography – if I were to be thoroughly critical – it lacked that raw impulse and almost animalistic instinct so engrained in Batsheva dancers.  It was most noticeable in the opening number, where I hoped to see the dancers arch back with greater urgency, to hear a greater vengeance in their voices when they shouted the lyrics, and to feel a greater heaviness and forcefulness from the character at downstage left who repeatedly launched himself from his chair and threw himself to the ground.  Nevertheless, Minus 16 is an artful composition – likely the reason for its popularity – and Ballet BC delivered a good performance.

Program 3 continued the company’s aims to challenge its artists and audiences.  Over the past couple of years, I have seen the company move from strength to strength.  This can only promise an exciting 2017-18 season ahead.

Brandon Alley & Emily Chessa in Minus 16. Photo ©Michael Slobodian .