It is worth bringing your coat to your seat at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, because as the lights go down and the music starts to play, you’ll likely get chills.
The program for Ballet BC’s 30th anniversary—a large achievement for any small Canadian arts company—opens with an evocative and stirring piece that explores resistance and survival. Created by resident choreographer Cayetano Soto for Ballet BC in 2014 and remounted for this show, Twenty Eight Thousand Waves is at once upsetting and beautiful, hinging on the statistic that an oil tanker at sea is hit by waves approximately 28,000 times a day. Set to a haunting violin-heavy score by David Lang and Bryce Dessner, the physically-demanding piece highlights the athleticism that dance requires. When watching, don’t forget to breathe.
In Awe, a world premiere by Belgium’s Stijn Celis, the technique of each performer is highlighted in a lyrical, expressive contemporary ballet set to the live voices of over 40 male singers from the Chor Leoni ensemble. Large, flowing movements, intricate partner work, and swift curves present a path of life, of extremes. And closing the program is the Canadian premiere of Vancouver choreographer Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo, originally created for the Netherland Dans Theater. The piece opens in silence as little white papers float from the ceiling onto the stage; it takes the audience on a heartbreaking exploration through the individual versus the group, and conflict versus peace, as dancers flow with and through each other, at times appearing to be one cohesive being. All in all, the three pieces create a storied display of the company’s breadth. “I think it really encompasses the 30 years,” says Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar. “We couldn’t have done this in year one.”
It is indeed a vast creative offering, both a hat tip to what has come before and a sharp turn towards the future. The audience at Thursday’s opening gasped and sighed with emotion as each dance ebbed and flowed—a sign that the artists did their jobs well. “I really think that when you put anybody on the stage, anything they think or feel, someone else is going to feel it too, whether or not they know it—you can’t hide,” Molnar says. “The deeper performers go on stage, the deeper the audience will go. The courage that an artist takes in a work allows the participant or viewer to have that same courage. As far as we go, they will go, as well.” These moments come easy and often, evident in a sharp staccato breath or a perfectly executed arabesque.
It is no coincidence that in the evening’s printed program, which includes a short Q&A with each company member, nearly every one cites Molnar as a reason for wanting to come on board. She is credited with rejuvenating Ballet BC, bringing it back from the brink of eruption six years ago, and she deserves the praise: through her partnerships and commissions, she has both invigorated the existing local dance community and spawned new supporters.
Molnar is poetic in her language, which she uses humbly, emphasizing that the company’s success is a result of artistic collaboration. She runs a collective, not a dictatorship; the dancers are encouraged to voice their ideas, to experiment, to learn. They grow individually as well as together. “I think we’re trying to define and redefine what the culture of making dance is,” explains Molnar. “The conversations about what it means to create an idea, to shape the world, to shape an audience and the people around our communities—it’s important. That’s what art is about. We try not to escape that point of view.” Dance is about communicating with the body, about demonstrating the depths of what a person can do with nothing but their own strength and control, and that Ballet BC has been doing so for three decades is no minor feat. “I always think about what it’s like in an individual lifetime to be 30, and it’s very much the same as an organization,” Molnar explains. “There’s a sense of history behind us, but at the same time there’s a courage and a youthfulness about where the future can go. We have the knowledge and the expertise, and we can go deeper now.”
Photos by Michael Slobodian.