It was the third act that brought down the house in Friday’s Ballet BC show that wrapped up TITAS Presents’ 2016-2017 season. The fiercely contemporary show from a classically trained company featured the work of three female choreographers and included several stunning numbers after a slow beginning.
The first piece, 16 + a room, by Ballet BC’s own artistic director, Emily Molnar, was ultimately the weakest, though the mid-section included a pas de deux so beautiful, it was breathtaking (the female dancers wore pointe shoes, which extended the lines, while the male dancers moved across the floor in socks). The company’s classical training is everywhere evident and elevates the modern choreography in tangible ways. But the piece, set to a pulsing, percussive soundtrack, lost focus partway, settling into a predictable pattern of recycled clichés, like the frenetic running and sliding on and off the stage. The holding up of signs—“This is a beginning”; “This is not an end”—interspersed the piece, tedious, repetitive, and ultimately superfluous, seeming only to underscore that this was a piece in search of a narrative. In the last of three movements, the running escalated, accompanied by the sounds of whirring helicopter blades, like a passage from Apocalypse Now. But physical phrases didn’t connect, neither individual dancers nor the group developing anything long enough to leave a lasting impression.
The second number, Solo Echo, by choreographer and former Ballet BC member Crystal Pike, inspired by a poem by American poet Mark Strand entitled “Lines in Winter,” was lyrical and poetic, deeply evocative of winter and death. Snow falls throughout the piece via the effects of a light scrim, and by the end, it has taken over stage (as backdrop). The dancers fall off, one by one, leaving one behind. At one point, a male dancer slowly walks off stage backwards, a female dancer gliding like a shadow at his heels. These synchronizations were the highlights of a number that began with individual dancers in their own bubbles, independent, and progressed, like tracing the arc of a life, towards something more communal. Towards greater alignment with the music as well, Brahms piano and cello sonatas with a masterful interpretation by YoYo Ma, at times so sensitive I stopped seeing the dancing as dancing and heard it as a physical expression of the musical phrases. The choreographic language here was about the repeated arcs of bodies, tracing tender lines but also hinting at the inexorability of death. I struggled with the fact that the spot-lighting obscured the dancers’ bodies, which were lit starkly from above for much of the piece, plunging much of them into darkness. With their dark costumes, they became a series of brightly lit shoulders and biceps. Though in some ways this fit the poem beautifully.
The final piece, Bill, was by Tel-Aviv based female choreographer Sharon Eyal of Batsheva Dance Company. Wearing white contact lenses, their hair frosted white as well, and sinuous in flesh-colored body stockings, the dancers interpreted a clear visual language that telegraphs powerfully. The number begins with saltimbanco playfulness—buoyant jack-in-the-box motions, bouncing, arm fanning, and quick repetitive movements, tightly controlled, like animated puppets or marionettes more than automatons. In their flesh-colored body stocking, the dancers were like acrobats in an avant-garde circus. Then the choreography modulated, spines becoming languorous. Ballet BC’s dancers are phenomenally trained, and here you see their focus on the articulation of each curve and inch of the spine. It is one of the company’s strengths. Eyal’s choreography is influenced by Gaga, a philosophy of movement pioneered by Ohad Naharin, former artistic director of Batsheva, and espoused by Ballet BC. (A recent film entitled Mr. Gaga documents the life of Naharin and the increasing influence of the Gaga movement phenomenon on the contemporary dance world.) The result, in the overlap of Eyal’s style and Ballet BC’s dancing, is something powerfully embodied. Before the audience’s eyes, the piece modulates through a series of references: postures like Indonesian shadow puppets; the outturned knees and crooked arms of Egyptian tomb paintings; figures like Greek kuroi. Then the Kama Sutra, dancers forming a heart with their arms. The language becomes more sinuous, sensual, and all-encompassing, a celebration of movement and all the possibilities of articulation of bodies that now writhe in lithe, sinuous curves, like the most elaborate arabesques. (Not the arabesques of classical ballet, but the scrolls and swirls of Arabic calligraphy.) In one passage, torsos and hips undulated, like a full chorus of ripples. It was a stunning ensemble number, the dancers seeming animated from within and singularly attuned to each other, till they ended in a final frieze, all arms lifted. The standing ovation seemed all but inevitable.