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Photo. Barb Gray
Alberta Ballet Caelestis

In view of an exceptional arts  event to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada,  three choreographers and three composers were chosen from across Canada,  to create  specially commissioned works by the NAC. This was an exceptional opportunity  for audiences across the country but also for the artists to meet other companies and other dancers from other parts of Canada. They were invited to  develop their own work freely and to have the rare chance to work with a complete orchestra .Each event lasted 30 minutes in Southam Hall and the whole evening which opened last night and lasted just over two hours, left much to ponder about the future of dance in Canada.

The collaboration of composer Nicole Lizée and  choreographer Emily Molnar, Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming(Ballet BC) appeared to be  the most interesting as far as the fabrication of a corporeal language was concerned. Molnar transformed the dancer’s bodies into sinuously elastic, energetic creatures emptied of sentimentality but brimming with tension and defiance that oozed through  her  corporeal work.

On an almost bare stage, where the space is defined by multiple intense spots streaming down from above, marking the chosen space, the dancers rush in, stop, look around, reach out, rush off, collapse and test the limits of this androgynous body confronted by its multiple selves that connect and disconnect, through a choreography emptied of all traces of narrative evolution. It was not theatrically spectacular but it produced  a  figure that  delved into the abstraction of pure   movement, reacting to  sounds,  rhythms and instruments set out by the composer. A most original dancing body has seen the day in this program and we wonder how Mme Molnar is going to develop her creation in the future. .

Choreographer Jean Grand-Maître (Alberta Ballet) and composer Andrew Staniland , are joined by the background video projection designed by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, to create Caelestis,. These artists,   working with  dancers who  have  strong balletic training, illustrate a sense of narrative that suggested in the first moments, the influence of Stravinsky’s music (The Rites of Spring)  and Béjart’s group choreography. There was a pumping rhythm and collective movement that brought me back to Bejart’s work from the 1960’s which has become legendary and part of every choreographer’s unconscious vocabulary which is not a bad thing.


There is also a powerful  visual atmosphere projected on a huge screen against the back wall that appears to reveal  the evolution of a new cosmology. As time passes, cells float in space, then cells divide into more complex groups of symbols, which then become groups that construct hieroglyphics, to quickly develop into structures  of language and then morph into complex mathematical formulas.  All the while, the dancing ensemble reproduces a similar formal evolution as the dancers’  body parts produce similar corporeal hieroglyphics, as legs and arms fling out and are lifted into the air by partners where each couple produces a new hieroglyphic that is accompanied by circular collective movement, suggesting the tribal ritualizing of a collectivity that is moving into a new form of human adventure, slowly evolving into something that  cannot escape the pressures of  the universe. The magnificent visual background evolves into magical dancing lights, into an explosion of firey destruction then a cool return to a moving body in the heavens that comes full circle and transforms the human creatures reduced to tiny, insignificant creatures within the huge firmament of uncontrollable reactions that could easily destroy them all. An image of despairing beauty over which the human creature has no control.

This work where the sound, the visual elements and the bodies share the space on stage, seems to overwhelm the dancers. The sequence that seems to produce a  kaleidoscope of shapes as  flowers spin round  and   fly away is particularly ineffective . The  choreography is submerged by the counterpoint of spinning movement and splitting colour,  neutralizing the efforts of the dancers. A musical and visual spectacle of heightened theatricality,  this work  appears to fill the stage with  too much information and becomes a confusion of symbols. It was exciting at moments but it expressed much less depth than the work by Ballet BC.

As for Dark Angels (National Ballet of Canada), this delirium of aggressive pulsions explode into a frenzy of fallen creatures where couples torture each other in slightly sado-masochistic  encounters sliding further into the depths of a space of suffering and pleasure. This choreography by Guillaume Coté  is deeply sexual, feeding off a strong balletic training of these exceptional dancers  as they slither and slide and become dangerous snakes devouring each other symbolically in a frenzied struggle of erotic excitement. Such fun! This is  the underground , the steamy streets of big urbans centres where unspeakable encounters take place by heavily made up creatures, nearly nude bodies hiding in the shadows, not daring to come out in the open.

The references accumulate , the theatricality of this piece stands out with the glowing costumes that appear to be painted on those twisting, performing bodies subjected to a lighting that streams in from above, against dark slightly lit surfaces. The great presence of this production is the magnificently explosive music of Kevin Lau with the percussions and strings all intertwined in a most exciting composition.

Lau’s music (National Ballet of Canada) was, to my mind the most exciting of the evening  and and I found that Emily Molnar’s choreography (Ballet BC) was the most radical! But each segment was in itself fascinating to watch and to hear, as we tried to imagine the actual thought process that brought each collaborator into the world created by the other partner. None of that was easy, and thus each sequence becomes a great artistic adventure that the NAC should consider repeating in the very near future. It was a wonderful evening.

Encount3rs /Rencontr3s continues at the NAC (Southam Hall) from April 20 to 22. Show begins at 20h00.