Finding Deep Gratitude: Ballet BC Opens The Pillow

 In Voices on Dance

Opening Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s 87th season is a programming honor. Bestowed recently upon companies like Miami City Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, to name just a few, presenters the world over have looked to this prestigious recognition for direction, relevance, and impact-fullness in dance curation. As a fledgling curator myself, I am only beginning to understand the scope of this responsibility.

Ballet BC, under the direction of Emily Molnar, is currently on its largest international tour to date. On Wednesday night at the Ted Shawn Theatre in Becket, Massachusetts, they surpassed lofty expectations of what a repertory company is capable of achieving in 2019: with a performance that obliterated the senses and challenged the status quo, all the while recalling the ubiquitous power of sheer physicality.

Calling Vancouver, Canada, home, Ballet BC “cannot be contained by national boundaries” as Pamela Tatge, director of Jacob’s Pillow astutely phrased it in her opening remarks. Breeching 45 new creations in the last decade, Ballet BC is not short on choreographic diversity either. The triple-bill program opened with the American premiere of Bedroom Folk by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal and collaborator Gai Behar, followed by Molnar’s own To this day and concluded by French choreographer, Medhi Walerski’s Petite Ceremonie. The varied program fed my voracious hunger for newness while comforting my predilections for technical prowess and compositional clarity.

Eyal’s Bedroom Folk was a march in time conducted to sound artist Ori Lichtik’s galvanizing score. Steeped in house beat, the dancers repeated compact and idiosyncratic gestures in mesmerizing fashion. The slick-black androgynous unitards, designed by Rebecca Hytting, revealed the confrontational and percussive unison movements of the dancers. There was one moment where the quiver of exhaustion seeped into the quadriceps of some of the leading women, making the spectacle all the more real and fixating.

Molnar’s playful yet mischievous To this day was a special highlight. Mirroring music of Jimi Hendrix with the luscious movement vocabulary of her dancers, Molnar crafted a work that flirtatiously reverberated like Jimi’s guitar strings. Sliding across the stage in socks — a familiar contemporary movement trope — could have looked trite; instead, it produced a continuity of inertia and a feeling of earth-settling resolve that morphed into a satisfying motif. Towards the middle of the work, Molnar’s luxurious partnering spiraled and surprised with nods to Kylian and Duato, yet with a fresh new perspective. If I have one complaint, it’s that I could have seen more! Molnar’s dancers are all exquisite, but this work specifically allowed Justin Rapaport and Brandon Alley to capture the audience’s attention with their dashingly carnal signatures.

Walerski’s Petite Ceremonie felt in many ways compositionally similar to Ohad Naharin’s iconic crowd pleaser (and frankly, over-commissioned) Minus 16. But, curating it as the closer to the program lent the dance an identity all its own. The dancers wore suits and black silk cocktail dresses, conspired in cheeky movement phrases, uttered dialogue and ultimately, united in powerful unison assemblages; these familiar collages and tableaux nodding to more popular works. I was particularly struck by a women’s section led by dancer Nicole Ward that encapsulated the essence of Ballet BC: impeccable technique and impassioned presence. This is the first piece I’ve seen by Walerski and the experience left me with one question: How do I see more?

After a standing ovation, the house lights returned to normal and the satiated audience tumbled into the Berkshire evening air. I looked around and saw all types of patrons united in exuberance for dance. Jacob’s Pillow is an enchanting place and Ballet BC was clearly an intoxicating choice as the season opener. I left with a deep sense of gratitude for this rich cultural space that delivers curatorial quality with compassion and integrity.

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