Oozing suspensions, rapid turns and punctuated stillness after sliding and gliding with momentum – such was the play with dynamics that defined the movement of Ballet British Columbia. The dancers showcased an impressive virtuosity and strength in their ballet-contemporary style, in a Triple Bill that grew in colour and creativity.
The first piece felt like a showcase of the dancers’ technical abilities in Emily Molnar’s 16+a room. It had a postmodern undertone with its minimalism and the provocative use of a sign stating, “This is a beginning”, held up throughout the piece.
All in black, set to an electronic score of beeps and clunks, the dancers move slickly on and off the stage, assembling and disassembling their formations for short chunks of movement that were mechanical like the sound-score.
It all felt emotionally detached, slightly robotic as the dancers performed sharp, dynamic phrases, sliding into spaces and coming to a punctuated stop, without any interaction between dancers. All of it perfectly clean and sharp, the choreography directing the audience’s eye.
Perhaps it was the point, the repetitiveness of the movement, to focus on the admiring the dancers technical abilities. Two-thirds of the way in, the score goes silent, and starts off again this time more fragmentary in sound and choreography. This section felt like an add-on and over-stated with its dance-troupe formations, as they would all gather in tight pyramid formations, for unison movement, glowering out at the audience.
With the second piece of the night, I thought we were getting a repeat performance when Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo opened with black costumes and dancers sliding into space. But the piece softened as it ran alongside Brahm’s Cello Sonato.
Solo Echo evokes a solemn, winter’s moonlight; a sense that time has been paused for a silent midnight monologue. The backdrop for the piece consists of a black and white screen of fluttering specks, just in front of which, white paper pieces flutter down – creating a half-real, half-virtual illusion of snowfall.
Lit by a wintry spotlight, it is a melancholy solo for seven dancers. By which I mean the piece is themed around one dancer and the butterfly effect of their movement on the connected bodies. The vocabulary is highly technical and dynamic at times around moments of a softer, yearning quality.
Opening with a busy stage of seven dancers, sliding across the space, returning to a deep lunge, with head and arms set as if heading towards something. The choreography weaves perfectly, the peaks and troughs in energy and dynamic.
I enjoyed the innovative, subtly comical use of cannon when the dancers line up behind each other, and one by one change into a dramatic posture, falling suddenly to the floor or gesturing with the hands.
A slow cannon creates the beautifully delicate ending, which sees the dancers lined up again behind each other, one by one slipping through the supporting arms of the person behind them and rolling off-stage. Spaced at the back corner of the stage, it cleverly means the same actions get smaller and smaller, as the last bodies are further away – a poetic and lasting final image.
The best was saved till last, in my opinion. Sharon Eyal’s Bill is a quirky, upbeat, and at times a comical piece, which transcends the dancers’ natural bodies.
The whole piece is set to modern music – the kind of house music that would be played in clubs – a rarity for contemporary dance. Combined with pop colour lighting, it gave the whole piece a futuristic, upbeat feel.
It begins with a series of solos; episodic in movement languages, that range from minimal and robotic, bird or creature-like, awkward and erratic to poised and gymnastic. A highly eclectic fusion of movement, which is somehow given coherence. It was nice to see the dancers perform something more characterised and playful, compared to the rest of the programme.
After the series of solos, the dancers all assemble, for unison sections that foregrounded soloists and duets. The movement still switching between eclectic extremes. Dressed in yellow unitards, complete with yellow sprayed hair and face, with hair slicked-back, their sculpted bodies were made to look like mannequins.
Thus when performing minimalist, robotic actions, at times the background dancers blur to become geometric shapes and colourful architecture in the space – which is visually very satisfying. Admittedly the last whole-company section felt drawn out, but overall I loved it.
Eyal’s choreography plays with something which feels on the brink of modern culture, if not ahead of it, hinting at robotics, fragmentary identities and posthuman bodies. Altogether, very exciting.