Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

Movement, music and meaning melt together in Ballet British Columbia’s triple bill at Sadler’s Wells.

Ballet British Columbia’s current world tour began its UK visit at Sadler’s Wells with a performance of works by internationally celebrated choreographers Emily Molnar, Crystal Pite, and Sharon Eyal. Featuring three prominent women, the evening showcased some of the unique voices currently shaping movement.

In Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo, the most successful of the three pieces, movement, music and meaning melt together. There’s a timelessness to Pite’s choreography, which has the capacity to stir and involve the audience in moments just beyond our reach on the stage. Snow and bodies fall with graceful continuity and the suspended lyricism of a dream. Presenting ‘the story of a life’ this piece, in two parts, builds on a series of echoes; first in the movement between the dancers whose bodies replicate and expand upon each other’s positions, or require the constant contact, especially between hands and arms, to extend the body beyond its limits. These movements also echo its major influences, Brahms’ Cello Sonata in E minor, op. 38 and Cello Sonata in F major, op. 99, as well as Mark Strand’s poem, “Lines for Winter,” as the dancers’ more forceful steps or abrupt arm gestures fall in time with the stronger chords, embodying Strand’s lines,

tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going.

In retrospect, Solo Echo is the perfect centerpiece for the evening, acting as the bridge between the first piece, Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s 16+ a room, with its more traditional influence and dancers en pointe, and the dystopian club vibes of Bill by Israeli dance maker Sharon Eyal with Gai Behar.

Molnar’s 16+ a room, though the most recent production, premiering in 2013, has less possibility of transcending the moment of its creation. From the gothic-tinged techno driven music to the costumes of loose vests and trousers, which, while simple, already feel dated with their boy band feel, to the signs spelling out “this is the beginning” and “this is not the end,” this piece deploys some of the less exciting stereotypes of interpretive dance. Perhaps since it plays more closely with the language and movement of classical ballet and less subtly with its literary influences, including Emily Dickinson and Jeannette Winterson, 16+ a room cannot quite find a cohesive identity, especially compared to the other more assured works. However, as in all three pieces, the dancers move together with focus and energy. There are moments of grace and cohesion in Molnar’s collaborative choreography with the members of her company, though the dancers’ skill shines more brightly in Pite’s and Eyal’s work.

In the final piece of the night, Sharon Eyal’s Bill, we discover the unique gifts and really explore the individual bodies and movements each dancer articulates. Beginning with a primal howl, Bill opens with a male dancer in a nude body stocking, delightfully commanding our attention with the exaggerated extensions and contortions of club culture. As a series of nude-stockinged soloists (men and women) take the stage, the audience discovers the individual qualities of each in a way the other two pieces somehow obscure in their more codependent choreography. The opening of Bill is alive with a camp energy that thrills and challenges. As more dancers crowd the stage, the movements become more frantic, sometimes overtly robotic then defiantly sensual. However, the chaos also becomes slightly repetitive, which as a comment on modern/future interaction – or lack thereof – is apt, and loses some of its fun as performance. Either the piece itself loses some of its dark humor, or I did, since I missed the exhilaration of the opening solo movements in the final minutes of the piece.

The progression through a life of dance, from its more balletic foundations to the technocratic force of the final piece, provided a satisfying narrative for the night, tracing the more explicit course of Pite’s Solo Echo and its poetic inspiration.

Ballet British Columbia performed at Sadler’s Wells on the 6th & 7th of March.

Watch clips of the performance:  and visit Sadler’s Wells for upcoming performances and information on concessions for students.

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