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Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Three Choreographers Bringing Contemporary Ballet to BAM in June

To This Day, photo: Michael Slobodian

By Susan Yung

Vancouver-based Ballet BC bears its geographical stamp in its name, but the “C” might just as well stand for “contemporary.” The company makes its BAM debut at the Howard Gilman Opera House from June 13 to 15. The three repertory dances to be performed are by choreographers whose paths have crossed previously—William Forsythe, Crystal Pite, and Emily Molnar, the artistic director of Ballet BC.

The direction of Ballet BC under Molnar, who celebrates a decade at the company’s helm, heartily embraces collaboration. She says, “With a new work, you have the gift of having that work done on your artists, so that they have a one-on-one relationship with the choreographer. It’s very new and it’s very vibrant, and that’s what Ballet BC has always been known for. Right now, we are going back to those roots. We are about creation; we are about innovation. We are about collaborating with not just the designers and musicians, but also with our community, with our audiences, with our country, and keeping that collaborative feeling in the institution, so that we flow in a collaborative way, and so that every part of the company is in the creative process.”

William Forsythe is well-known to audiences for the numerous intrepid dance-theater works by his companies Ballett Frankfurt and The Forsythe Company performed at BAM over the last two decades. Pite and Molnar, both Canadians, danced for him in Germany, where he was based for many years, and where his radical style and intellectual approach to ballet exerted great influence on the genre. Molnar notes, “Contemporary ballet is the ballet of today, and we are bringing that vernacular forward, very similar to what’s been going on in Europe for years.” That course was charted in no small part by Forsythe.

Ballet BC dancers Justin Rapaport and Parker Finley performing Enemy in the Figure, photo: Michael Slobodian

Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure (1989) was, interestingly, performed by his company at BAM in 2001. It is set to a score by Dutch composer and frequent Forsythe collaborator Thom Willems, and is memorable for its dramatic chiaroscuro lighting (also by Forsythe), a set with a wildly snaking rope, high-speed stage crossings, and devilishly difficult modern ballet technique. That it is 30 years old is an emphatic declaration of how avant-garde this American-born choreographer has always been.

Crystal Pite has gained a large international following in recent years, with commissions by notable companies, and performance by her own troupe, Kidd Pivot. Her works frequently embrace the entire theater space, using lighting to ingeniously shape the performance volume and create deep shadows which obscure and reveal the dancers. Ballet BC will perform Solo Echo, which is accompanied by a Brahms sonata for cello and piano. The dance is a prime example of Pite’s fluid, emotive, and singular movement vocabulary.

Solo Echo, photo: Sharen Bradford

Molnar has created a new work that will be included in the BAM engagement, set to blues rock, and which will utilize her highly expressionistic and challenging movement. She notes, “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.”

Ballet BC dancers Anna Bekirova and Brandon Alley performing To This Day, photo: Michael Slobodian

Of her evolution from dancer to choreographer to company director, she said, “As an artist, you tend to want to challenge yourself and see how you can keep enhancing your understanding of the art form. That led me into wanting to understand what it meant to do choreography, and become a choreographer, and now I’m into understanding what it takes to create the environment so that dancers, and choreographers, and artists of all forms, can actually develop.”

The three choreographers have created disparate bodies of work, of course, but they share a visceral, at times primal vibe that impacts audiences immediately. Molnar says, “I always go back to when you watch a show. It shouldn’t be lights or costumes—those are enhancements and they absolutely interplay with the work. But at the end of the day you should be able to strip everything down and be able to be moved by that one individual on the stage. That is what makes us a performing art, and that is our strength. It’s something that you cannot manipulate or edit.” No doubt Ballet BC’s BAM performances will reach viewers’ guts, hearts, and minds.

Ballet BC will be at BAM Jun 13—15.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.
© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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