Having never seen this company before, expectation was high – and British Ballet Columbia certainly doesn’t disappoint!
The curtain rises on 16+ a room, choreographed by the Artistic Director, Emily Molnar, in collaboration with the dancers. What immediately strikes me is the physically rigorous nature of the choreography, seamlessly combining contemporary and ballet techniques. The timing of the unison work is brilliant as are the many and complex lifts: the whole thing looks effortless, even though the difficulty is huge. The musical score is at times harsh (and very loud!) but it does suit the abstruse nature of the piece.
It is inspired by a Virginia Woolf quote: “We are all being shot backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern.” And that’s what the dance portrays in an abstract but pleasing way – people interacting within their space. It isn’t until they take their bow at the end (in the full lighting state) that I realise the female dancers leotard tops are completely see through – and I’m not sure of the relevance of that! – but an exhilarating start to the programme nonetheless.
After the first interval as the curtain lifts once more, this time on a piece called Solo Echo – an audible gasp within the theatre. “Snow” falls against a black background and the lighting is exquisite – as it is throughout. The beauty of this piece instantly gains it immortality as one of my favourite dances of all time. The whole “creation” is perfect: music, movement, lighting and staging. Based on a poem called Lines for Winter by Mark Strand, the final lines sum up the whole piece: “And if you find yourself where you will be at the end, tell yourself in that final flowing of cold through your limbs that you love what you are.” I have to admit that, as the curtain fell, to huge audience applause, I was holding back the tears. Bravo, choreographer Crystal Pite.
The final piece – Bill, begins with some humour which is a great juxtaposition of programme planning. Dancers clad entirely in yellow/gold catsuits seem to be saying, “This is me and I’m proud to be different.” The driving beat and the uniformity of the big group of dancers doing exactly the same thing in unison over and over again (very clever if not slightly monotonous) appears to reinforce my interpretation.
I’m not sure where it was meant to be going – but maybe it isn’t meant to go anywhere –and I would have liked the humour to continue throughout. Perhaps it did and I missed it!
The best thing about going to see such a talented and professional company is that it’s a pleasure just to watch them move – alone, duets, trios, groups – they are so adept and so accomplished, and they are breaking down the boundaries around ballet.
I urge you to go and see them at any opportunity because they are, as The New York Times rightly said, “Cultivating a new landscape of ballet.”
Congratulations Ballet British Columbia! Catch them on tour.
Review by Jo Hudson
Photograph credited to Cindi Wicklund