Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: (Vancouver) Grace-Symmetry

Rachel Meyer, Darren Devaney (photo by Michael Slobodian)

by Jay Catterson

The exploration of the intersection between music and dance was on glorious display at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for Ballet BC's Grace-Symmetry, which featured a re-staging of 2011's In Motion'by Wen Wei Wang and two world premieres, Prelude'by Medhi Walerski and Here On End by Kevin O'Day. All of these extremely athletic pieces were complemented by live music performed immaculately by Turning Pointe Ensemble, led by conductor Owen Underhill. 

Wang's In Motion was an impressive and uplifting piece that focused on lines, shapes and form, and showcased Turning Point Ensemble's musical prowess by featuring the orchestra on stage with the dancers. The piece effectively blended the lines between Underhill's music and dance, particularly during a mesmerizing pointe sequence that featured the percussive quality of the dancers' movements, breathing and whispered counting. Another highlight of the piece was an extremely athletic, yet seemingly effortless and touching pas de deux between Gilbert Small and Peter Smida. (It's important to note that Smida apparently fell sick and had to bow out of the other two pieces that evening, leading to a last minute re-staging of both Prelude and Here on End.) 

Then the evening's performances took a darker turn with Walerski's Prelude. I jokingly whispered to my friend at the intermission that if one of my nightmares was to be staged as a ballet, Prelude would be it. Here, the glaring floodlights coupled with the angular, writing movements of flesh-toned mesh-clad dancers, established an eerie tone of anguish and chaos balanced with moments of silence and suspense. The brilliant duet between dancers Rachel Meyer and Darren Devaney was the highlight of this piece, with Devaney's laboured breathing accentuated by a lone overhead floodlight providing an utterly spooky, yet unforgettably stunning moment. 

And the evening didn't lighten up with O'Day's Here On End, which featured a tensely pulsating and driven score by John King, commissioned for this piece by Ballet BC and Turning Point Ensemble. O'Day's choreography featured an extensive sequence of low-to-the-ground partnering work, with overhead spotlights on moving lighting rigs providing a dynamic cinematic quality to the piece. You could easily notice Twyla Tharp's influence on O'Day through his choreography; however, I had a few problems with O'Day's choice of movement. The piece could have explored more levels and pauses to take us through more of an emotional journey rather than solely relying on constantly frantic low-ground moments. Also, it seemed that the movements did not quite match the highly accented violin riffs of the score, which was a little off-putting. Perhaps the last minute re-staging due to Smida's illness created an undesired ripple effect that affected the piece; regardless, as a collective whole, the piece was performed well under the circumstances, and it was thrilling just to experience the world premiere of O'Day's piece here in Vancouver. 

Whether or not you are a ballet connoisseur, the impressive display of dance and the musicality of Turning Point Ensemble is the real reason to experience Ballet BC's Grace-Symmetry, and is a fitting tribute to both orchestral music and ballet as art forms. 

Feb. 20 - 24

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