Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Ballet British Columbia, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, March 6

Ballet British Columbia

Scott Fowler and artists of Ballet British Columbia in Bill (photo: Chris Randle)

The UK tour of Ballet British Columbia that Dance Consortium has organized coincides with a change of government in Canada where the current liberal party under Justin Trudeau has filled up the cultural sector coffers the previous conservative party had spent years diminishing. Thus a medium-sized company from the West coast of Canada has been able to add to the country’s cultural profile in the UK and from the program Ballet BC offered at Sadler’s Wells it looks decidedly healthy. Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s opening choreography for this triple bill, 16+ a room, reminds us of the connection she has had with William Forsythe at Ballett Frankfurt although she has made the work very much in the image of her company. Only two of the current dancers remain from before Molnar became artistic director in 2009, so this is a group she has developed through exposing them to a rich gamut of commissioned works, choreographic methods and styles. It is a finely honed company that puts technical strength at the service of an engaging and generous choreographic language.

From the beginning of 16+ a room (2013) there is a sense of an intellectual approach to the physical language, as if the dancers are working out amongst themselves the problem Molnar has set them. At the same time the problem she has set — what would happen if you put 16 people in a room and started tipping it — creates its own dynamic of sliding, balancing, suspending and tilting that she wraps in a vocabulary of muscular classicism. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting provides a sense of both luminous intensity and architectural shift while Kate Burrows’ costumes give freedom to the contained force and articulate extension of the dancers. The energy that tips the room comes from the declamatory electronic score of Dirk Haubrich, providing a high-voltage current through its three sections to bind together the choreography, visual form and aural environment of 16+ a room into a single organic entity.

From Haubrich to Brahms is more of a musical step than it is to move from the style of Molnar to that of Crystal Pite. Each choreographer acknowledges a debt to Forsythe, and in Solo Echo (2012) Pite interpolates her vocabulary in the calm of Brahms’ chamber music (the Allegro non troppo from his Cello sonata in E minor and the Adagio affetusoso from his Cello sonata in F major). She quotes a poem by Mark Strand, Lines for Winter, in the program note, but Solo Echo is a poem in itself written on the bodies of the seven dancers and suggested in Jay Gower Taylor’s setting of falling snow. Between the exquisite opening solo of Brandon Alley and the ineffable sigh of his slumped body abandoned in the snow at the end is ‘a human journey from adolescence to adulthood’ that breathes with the emotional intricacy of the music. This is pre-Polaris Pite where the hive mentality has not yet coalesced; the sense of community is suggested rather through a constant tide of individual comings and goings, one motion inspiring another, not unlike the way the cello and piano weave their respective melodies yet maintain their respective voices. The unity of this intensely musical work is further enhanced by Pite and Joke Visser’s spare costumes of dark, pinstriped waistcoats and trousers while Tom Visser’s evocative lighting subtly indicates the shifting focus of our attention. If 16+ a room is extrovert and energetic, Solo Echo turns the dancers on themselves in a state of poignant reflection.

After the second intermission, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bill (2010), originally created for Batsheva Dance Company with a score by Ori Lichtik, promises to further extend the scope of Ballet BC’s achievement. Unitards concentrate our attention on the structure of the body, its lines, shapes and gestures in four male solos that are respectively sensually outrageous, energetically comic, fluidly articulate, and stoically introspective. But the fifth, female solo begins to de-emphasise the individual to pave the way for the communal — a duality that pervades Israeli choreography. Expanding our focus to take in the entire stage at once, the nature of the visual game is searching the shifting unity of the 18 undulating, gesticulating dancers for subtle changes in rhythm and shape that Omer Sheizaf’s tonal lighting both emulates and encourages. Eyal and Behar extract sufficient differentiation within the group, but after the assertive individuality of the first two works Bill feels in its latter construction disconcertingly insubstantial. It is perhaps a case of the work’s formal integration into the company’s West coast ethos lacking the vital context of its social and cultural origins.

(Ian Abbott was the first to see this program at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2016)


A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Interview, Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

From an interview with Emily Molnar, artistic director of Ballet British Columbia

Ballet British Columbia

Artists of Ballet British Columbia in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

On March 6 & 7 Ballet British Columbia will be performing on the Sadler’s Wells main stage. For those who might read into the company name images of evergreen forests, indigenous peoples, paintings by Emily Carr, a rugged Pacific Northwest coast and English weather, the association with ballet may not immediately spring to mind. But those who know the names of Crystal Pite and William Forsythe (both of whom feature large in the Sadler’s Wells program this summer), may be surprised to learn their connection runs through Ballet British Columbia (Ballet BC). The company, founded in 1986, is based in Vancouver and Pite, who was born in the province, started her dancing career there. In 1996 she joined William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt and when she returned to Vancouver she began to choreograph for various companies, including Ballet BC, and founded her own company, Kidd Pivot. In 2010 Pite and Kidd Pivot moved to Frankfurt as the resident company of Kunsterlhaus Mousonturm. The paths of Pite and Forsyth are in turn intermingled with the career of Emily Molnar, Ballet BC’s current artistic director. Molnar is a graduate of the National Ballet School in Toronto and a former member of the National Ballet of Canada before she, too, joined Ballet Frankfurt where she met Pite. Forsythe’s approach to constructing and deconstructing ballet was a huge influence on both dancers. Molnar returned to Vancouver as a principal dancer at Ballet BC and took over the artistic directorship in 2009. So while the company’s name serves to identify it geographically, its artistic lineage is very much aligned with Frankfurt.

Although she also makes work on the company, Molnar has spent the last nine years selecting a broad range of works from different choreographers to develop a dialogue on dance and performance with her audiences. To commission and create 40 new works for a company of 18 dancers and to maintain healthy home seasons in a theatre the size of Sadler’s Wells is evidence of the success of her approach. She describes herself as having been a difficult student because she would constantly question the school regime, the way dancers trained and the technical as well as psychological effect of such training on the dancer. This propensity for questioning fed into her approach to choreography — working with Forsythe must have been especially stimulating — and later to her artistic directorship of a company. She is constantly instilling in her dancers not so much the ‘how’ of a performance but the ‘why’, and in building her choice of works and programs she pays attention to ‘why’ an audience may set foot in the theatre and to the dialogue that inevitably ensues. She wants to reward her audiences for taking that step, but she also wants to lead them on a journey that may take them outside their familiar frame of reference.

The program at Sadler’s Wells comprises works by Pite (Solo Echo) and Molnar (16 + a room) along with a third by the contemporary female voice of Sharon Eyal (Bill), a dancer and choreographer who spent 23 years working with Ohad Naharin in Batsheva in Tel Aviv. Pite and Eyal (along with her collaborator Gai Behar) are recognized names in the UK, so Molnar will be the outsider, setting up the kind of dialogue with audiences here that she has pioneered in Vancouver. Augurs are good; the program was first aired at the International Dance Festival Birmingham in 2016 and my friend Ian Abbott was impressed not only by Molnar’s ‘integrity, sense and articulate coherence’ in her advocacy of female choreographers at a pre-performance event but by the company’s triple bill which he likened to a delectable three-course meal. Dance Consortium was so impressed by the bill of fare and presumably by the bill that it has chosen to tour Ballet British Columbia in the UK this year.

 

UK Tour Dates


English National Ballet, Modern Masters

Posted: March 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

English National Ballet, Modern Masters, Sadler’s Wells, March 11

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)

 

The three modern masters represented in English National Ballet (ENB)’s triple bill at Sadler’s Wells — Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier and William Forsythe — are all related in that they learned their trade in John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet before forging their own distinctive styles of classical dance in their respective companies: Kylián in The Hague, Neumeier in Hamburg and Forsythe in Frankfurt. The three works performed this evening are like cousins, having their beginnings in a rich artistic period in Europe within two years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and have since been staged by companies around the world.

Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991) is already in the ENB stable since its acquisition in 2013 but its wit and elegance is worth seeing again. Well, it would be if the wit and elegance were in evidence, but on Wednesday night the elegance is hijacked by a display of overly muscular male torsos swishing fencing foils and the witty eroticism sidelined by their narcissistic posing. The six women, looking decidedly out of scale, don’t stand a chance, not even Tamara Rojo who is positively engulfed in Max Westwell’s physique. Not all the men suffer from this muscular overdevelopment — Junor Souza balances strength with lithe form and he is well suited in his duet with Laurretta Summerscales — but with six of them in nothing but high-waisted trunks the impression of bulk is overwhelming. One of the subtleties of Petite Mort is in Kylian’s use of the parallel qualities of the supple steel foil and the male body; petite mort is, after all, the French euphemism for orgasm and the analogy of death from the thrust of a foil with the little death of the final thrust in love is central to the imagery of the work. The foils haven’t changed since 1991 but the male bodies have; if these studs don’t rein in their weight training their future work with foils will be like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger sewing. Which makes me think of the poor costume department…

What a welcome relief to see Alejandro Virelles and Cesar Corrales in the first act of Neumeier’s Spring and Fall, choreographed to the five movements of Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade in E major. Here are two male dancers whose physique appears to be formed by classical training alone; they both move effortlessly and quietly from the inside, which is a totally different approach from the gym-enhanced school. With its pastel colours and white costumes (Neumeier’s own conception) the setting of Spring and Fall suggests a happy, youthful memory in which an ardent Virelles and a flirtatious but spirited Alina Cojocaru express their burgeoning love against a chorus of friends. Virelles and Cojocaru are beautifully matched in their ease of technique and lack of pretence that comes from the mastery of their art. The choreography is abstract but it is not hard to read. As Neumeier says, ‘As soon as there are two people there is some kind of relationship. And those human relationships are what interest me as a choreographer.’ Apart from the three principals, the supporting cast prove a little ragged, but Anjuli Hudson stands out with her uninhibited enthusiasm.

Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was first choreographed on the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1987 when Rudolph Nureyev was artistic director. Forsythe remembers ‘the whole atmosphere there was electric.’ The first cast included a young Sylvie Guillem, Laurent Hilaire, Isabelle Guérin and Manuel Legris. Imagine those long legs arriving at the height of a percussive climax in Thom Willems’ electronic score and what Forsythe’s elongated, dynamic, off-balance shapes must have looked like. There is also a chic cool in the way the dancers wander in and start their variations, something the French do so well. It is still a thrilling dance to watch with its spatial dynamics and visceral physicality, though Wednesday’s cast is less tall, less elongated than its ideal execution demands: the dynamics of the steps don’t quite match the dynamics of the score. In terms of coolness, Tiffany Hedman seems to have the measure of the work but the same can’t be said about James Streeter, fresh from fencing, who mistakes open-mouthed, brazen posing for cool assurance. It’s that bodybuilding thing again.

 


Sylvie Guillem: 6,000 Miles Away

Posted: July 4th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sylvie Guillem: 6,000 Miles Away

Sylvie Guillem, 6000 Miles Away, Sadler’s Wells, May 21

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's Bye. Photo Lesley Leslie-Spinks

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s Bye. Photo Lesley Leslie-Spinks

The evening of dance Sylvie Guillem was putting together in March 2011 might have been called simply ‘Sylvie Guillem and Friends’ if her rehearsals with William Forsythe in London had not coincided with the devastating tsunami that hit Japan. Calling the new program 6000 Miles Away was Guillem’s way of keeping in mind those who were suffering the effects of that environmental disaster (she raised £80,000 for the Red Cross Tsunami appeal at the original 2011 performances at Sadler’s Wells), but the title also neatly ties in with a charity Guillem supports, Sea Shepherd, among whose projects is the protection of whale habitats from the illegal practices of the Japanese whaling fleet. This in turn seems at least 6,000 miles from the playful, ecstatic image of Guillem on the publicity material under the names of three iconic choreographers, Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe and Mats Ek. Welcome to the world of Sylvie Guillem. She serves on the Media and Arts Advisory Board of Sea Shepherd and Sadler’s Wells this time round devoted an evening to fundraise for the charity, presenting a short filmed message from founding skipper Paul Watson, who could have been, yes, 6,000 miles away.

The attraction of the evening is indisputably Guillem herself, but she does not dance in all three works. It seems she commissioned Forsythe and Ek to make works for this program but the duet from Kylián’s 27’52” — in which Guillem does not dance — dates from 2002 and has no direct relation to her. Alistair Spalding’s welcome note in the program simply links the three works by stating that they showcase the work of ‘three creators who have held a special place in Sylvie’s career’ but Sarah Crompton in her article on the making of 6000 Miles Away makes no mention of Kylián at all. This suggests either that plans to commission Kylián to create a work for Guillem came to nothing, or that the duet from 27’52” — danced here by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak — was an afterthought.

As the curtain rises, Cayla and Timulak are on stage, she in a red top (later removed) and black pants standing in a spotlight and he lying in black pants and stripped to the waist at the edge of the floor. Lit beautifully by Kees Tjebbes, the stage is a clean canvas on which Kylián highlights with quiet precision the beauty of the articulated, semi-naked bodies in movement, something we can expect from him even when he is not at his most inspired. The problem is not with the choreography, nor with the dancing, nor with the score by Dirk Haubrich: the duet just doesn’t fit on the program; without Guillem’s creative involvement, it has an energy and identity at odds with the other two works, and deprives the evening of any unity.

Rearray is a duet of minimal form danced in and out of intermittent lighting conditions (Forsythe’s concept, Rachel Shipp’s realisation) that have an overly dominant role. There are so many blackouts, exits and entrances that the only way we recognize the end is when the dancers don’t come on again. When the lighting gets overly complex, one senses Rearray is a work that uses Guillem to show off Forsythe, but there are other luminous passages when Forsythe is clearly showing off Guillem. Dressed in t-shirt and jeans she performs what appears to be a series of relaxed, impromptu dances but has the ability to create starkly precise and beautiful shapes that seem to imprint themselves in the air. Her partner on this occasion, Massimo Murru, doesn’t have quite the same alchemy, which in a piece where partnering in the old sense is less in demand than an equality of presence keeps the equation one-sided. Forsythe gives him an arresting solo, however, in which his hands appear to be tied behind him, like a puppet unable to escape his own serfdom. David Morrow’s music is not an easy listen, but Forsythe evidently relishes its intricacy and in a lighter moment shares its humour: the fourth section begins as both dancers, facing upstage, simply bend their knees to the rhythm of Morrow’s score, creating a simple, articulated pattern that is both rich and quirky. Forsythe’s mastery of the stage remains undimmed, and it is a real joy to see Guillem responding to his direction even in a work that spends far too much time concealing her.

After the strong taste of Forsythe, Ek’s constant stream of ludic ideas in Bye is as refreshing as a sorbet. Ek, one feels, has put his choreography at the service of the artist, and Guillem returns his devotion in full. Katrin Brännström’s set is like a room with a small door in the back through which we see a black and white projection (thanks to Elias Benxon) of Guillem’s giant, cyclopic eye; the image of her face moves across the doorway/screen to reveal her other eye, then she walks away until she reaches stage size. Returning to peer through the glass, her real hands now appear over the doorframe as extensions of her filmed image. She is pigtailed, dressed in a yellow skirt, a green pullover and bobby socks (costumes by the ever-ingenious Brännström), a long-legged gamine playing games to her heart’s content. Erik Berglund’s lighting picks out both her line and the architectural elements beautifully, and enhances the playful colours of her costume. Ek uses the Arietta movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, op 111, shaping the rhythmic content and painting delightfully irreverent images that Guillem plays with her entire body as if on an instrument. Ek seems to derive his vocabulary from an array of sources including classical dance, yoga, everyday gestures and the sculptural forms of Henry Moore. As the sonata becomes more rhythmic and playful, so does Guillem, taking off her cardigan, shoes and socks, improvising as if in her own room like a clown or Raggedy Ann doll with her leg thrown nonchalantly up to her forehead. A man appears at the door looking in and glancing impatiently at his watch. How long will Guillem be? He goes away. She yawns, rolls over, and stands on her head. A virtual labrador comes to the door and sits down patiently, but eventually he, too, moves on. Guillem remains oblivious of time, bouncing to the luscious chords of the sonata with joyful abandon. Ek narrows our focus for a moment to the projected outlines of a bed on which Guillem lies. We concentrate on her hand gestures against the black and her form is like a goddess eating grapes, the pose from the poster. She stands on her head again, watched by a growing number of children at the door but finally puts on her socks and shoes. In the cadenza she dances a little madness before stepping outside and looking back wistfully at the interior world of her colourful imagination that she must regretfully leave to face the black and white reality outside.

 


Royal Ballet Flanders: Further inside the mind of William Forsythe

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Royal Ballet Flanders: Further inside the mind of William Forsythe

After publishing my review of William Forsythe’s Artifact (Inside the mind of William Forsythe, April 22), I got an email from Kathryn Bennetts with a comment about the curtain in Part 2. I had suggested that the curtain made too much noise, and that surely Forsythe would have wanted something less clumsy that did not detract from the music. Bennetts said she had received messages from people who had seen the original production, who complained the curtain did not come down loudly enough. Could this have been simply because the curtain in 1984 was controlled manually, or because Forsythe the enfant terrible was deliberately flouting theatrical convention (as he does elsewhere during the evening) to keep his audience off guard? If the latter, it reveals a deep seam of wit and conceit throughout the work. Interestingly, Clement Crisp loses patience with precisely this kind of conceit in his review of Artifact for the Financial Times (on.ft.com/I8B7LP).

Perhaps we should be careful not to take William Forsythe too seriously after all. Going back to that photographic portrait of him in the Sadler’s Wells program, isn’t there on that intelligent face the smile of a court jester?


Royal Ballet Flanders: Artifact (Inside the mind of William Forsythe)

Posted: April 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Royal Ballet Flanders: Artifact (Inside the mind of William Forsythe)

Royal Ballet Flanders, William Forsythe’s Artifact at Sadler’s Wells, Saturday April 21.

There is a photograph of William Forsythe in the Sadler’s Wells program, a beautifully lit portrait in which his disembodied head and hands emerge from the darkness. If you take a quick glance at the portrait, he is smiling, welcoming; but if you focus on his left eye it is quite severe, dark, critical, and the right one shows love, forgiveness and humour. Focus on the smiling mouth, and it rises up at the right into the possibility of a smirk. What exactly is going on inside William Forsythe’s head at that moment?

In 1984, when Forsythe was given the direction of the Ballett Frankfurt, he created a new work for his company, which he called Artifact. It is a work about what was going on inside his head during that brief, three-week period of heightened creativity that was required to bring it out. The work is essentially a portrait, though of course it is created, edited, somewhat artificial. An artifact.

Part 1 of this ballet in four parts opens with the enigmatically named The Other Person (first soloist Eva Dewaele) appearing in a procession of one across the bare stage on a diagonal from downstage right to upstage left, arms calmly rising, like the woman in Balanchine’s Serenade who leads off the final procession from downstage left to upstage right. As an opening statement, it is both an acknowledgement and an undoing: we may have come from there, Forsythe seems to say, but we are not going in the same direction. Once The Other Person has disappeared, enter the Character in Historical Costume (Kate Strong), a baroque presence with a flourish of welcome. To counteract this voluble female force is The Man with a Megaphone (Nicholas Champion), a 20th-century, nagging, rational male with a low battery. The unlikely scene is set. We are invited to step inside the mind of William Forsythe.

Here is the first broad sweep of movement across the stage in which the dancers of Royal Ballet Flanders give us a first taste of the kind of unity they can bring to their ensemble work. The group re-forms around the stage, and from it escapes the first duet by principals Aki Saito and Wim Vanlessen. This is the first time we see Forsythe’s language of pulled out lines and off balance lifts and promenades, the breaking of the classical lines. A second duet of first soloist Yurie Matsuura and corps member David Jonathan is more restrained but with the same neo-classical grammar. This appears to be familiar choreographic territory, but we are seeing it almost 30 years on, after several imitators have picked up Forsythe’s formal ideas without the intention. Despite its age, Artifact maintains its interest precisely because the intention is still very much alive and vibrant.

Part 2 is set to J.S. Bach’s hauntingly beautiful Chaconne in D Minor, the final movement of the Partita in D Minor, played in a recording by Nathan Milstein, to the accompaniment of his heavy breathing. The actors have retired; this is the movement of the dance untrammeled by any nattering dialectic. The corps de ballet lines the stage and the same two couples repeat material from their first movement duets, but here the music adds its own flowing lines to theirs, transforming it with its intimacy and complexity. The duets end magically as the four dancers merge into the two lines of the corps as they exit across the stage. Whatever Forsythe’s reason for bringing in the curtain during this second act, he surely would never have wanted the sound of the curtain hitting the stage to obtrude as much as it did at Sadler’s Wells.

Part 3 starts without warning; surprised audience members shuffle back to their seats as the action continues on stage. This is not the first time Forsythe seems to step out of his role of choreographer to comment on audience conventions, before diving back into the action. And dive he does.  After an opening off-balance, inside-out solo by corps member, Joseph Hernandez, the action descends into madness, stage elements are knocked down and the dance form deconstructed to the accompaniment of Forsythe’s own soundscape in which Bach’s Chaconne appears to be played backwards and The Character in Historical Costume repeats her phrases as rapidly as an auctioneer. The curtain comes down to applause and a solitary and unapologetic boo.

The solo piano, played throughout by the redoubtable Margot Kazimirska, returns with Part 4. Dance form reasserts itself as repeated patterns build up in a remarkable spatial complexity. Towards the end, The Other Person seems to draw into her body all the madness and chaos of the preceding movement. The two speaking characters continue their declamations, to less purpose. The storm has passed; calm is restored. The journey over, and it is time to step outside. The light has gone; all is silence.

This is the kind of work that draws out all the resources of a company and Royal Ballet Flanders has risen to the challenge admirably. The work has been carefully and lovingly put together by the director, Kathryn Bennetts, who was Forsythe’s rehearsal director for 15 years. There will never be abstract dance as long as the dance emanates from the mind of a person, even if not all of its content is readily understandable. Because Forsythe laid bare so much of himself in this seminal work for his new company, by the end of Artifact you feel you have made a journey of discovery that brings you closer to the human condition. It is a credit to the company that they have managed to achieve this so convincingly.