BalletContemporaryDanceNorth WestPerformance ArtReview

Ballet British Columbia – The Lowry, Salford

Choreographers: Emily Molnar, Crystal Pite, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Ballet British Columbia isn’t a company on most British dance audience’s radar. In fact, despite the company being over 30 years old, this is their first time in the UK. In partnership with Dance Consortium, the Canadian company are undertaking an extensive UK tour, from Edinburgh to Plymouth, with plenty of stops in between.

If there’s a theme that runs through the programme, it’s simplicity. All the work here – three pieces created by female choreographers – are cleanly conceived, with minimal design, and dramatic lighting. The focus is on the movement, the dancers’ bodies, shape, and strength. 

16 + a room presents a group of dancers in black vest tops and jeans, assembled on the cavernous, dark stage. With handheld signs that read ‘This is a beginning’ and ‘This is not the end’, they create a dystopian scene that suggests a hellish battlefield, a place where life is precarious and bodies can easily be broken. The piece is bleak and unnerving, set against a score of atonal electronic music by German Composer Dirk Haubrich that cracks and drones. Choreographer, and Company Director, Emily Molnar describes the inspiration for the piece as putting sixteen people in a room, and tipping that room to see what patterns would result, something that she says creates a “metaphor for the unknown”.

The second piece of the evening begins with snow, an icy curtain of it that falls down the back of the stage throughout Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo. Against this mesmerising backdrop, and to a glorious soundtrack of Brahms cello concertos, seven dancers in black trousers and waistcoats present what it is to be human, from childhood to death. Delightfully playful to begin with, the piece explores the huge variety of human contact as the dancers literally pin each other down, hold each other close, push each other away and hold each other up. There are joyous moments of togetherness, intimate and visceral. The final movements where each ‘slips away’ from the ensemble is heartbreakingly beautiful.

There’s a slight – but not complete – change of tone in the third piece – Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bill. In (Caucasian) flesh coloured full body suits the dancers create a fiesta of apparent nakedness, like mannequins, marble statues and new-borns they prance and shake in the altogether. The suits create a oneness – all skin tone disappears, male and female bodies become sexless and where the body is outlined – in the bumps and dips of the spine, the roundness of thighs and buttocks, it has the bland smoothness of an anatomical model. Spectacular lighting design by Omer Sheizaf changes all that. It picks out individuals in yellow against a backdrop of green, bathes bodies in sensuous red. Suddenly there’s an uneasy futuristic vibe to the whole thing, bodies become robotic, threatening. The crowd turns tribal. They cast out one of their own.

Ballet British Columbia has created a gloriously serious trio of works for this introduction to the UK. It marks them out against other contemporary dance companies. Classical training shines through the newness of the choreography, the conceptual ideas and the stripped back design. The tour will surely cement their place in the UK’s international dance calendar.

Runs until 21 March 2018 | Image: Sharen Bradford

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Glorious, serious & heart-breaking

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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