Timms Centre for the Arts, Edmonton, AB; January 17, 2014
Alberta Ballet has the Wilis; rehearsals for “Giselle” are great for the gals, not so much for the men. With only two male roles in the entire second half of the ballet there’s a glut of tutus and a lot of testosterone lounging around the studio. Enter, “Up Close”. In its third iteration, “Up Close” takes advantage of the “Giselle”-enforced danseur-down time to allow choreographers to create new works on the company’s male dancers. The result is an intimate evening of masculine dance that is perfectly suited for the cozy dimensions of the Timms Centre for the Arts theatre.
In the first “Up Close” to travel to Edmonton, the choreographic contributions came from two in-house choreographers: dancer Yukichi Hattori and ballet master Alexandrous Ballard. The program was done on a bare bones budget – taped music, minimal lighting, no sets and costumes pieced together from Ballard’s former company and company stocks.
Opening the program was Hattori’s “Temple”, a tribute to the bar, the first focus of every ballet class. Hattori has created a handful of pieces for the company, emerging as a thoughtful, deft dance creator. “Temple” doesn’t so much begin as it flows smoothly from the bar exercises the dancers work though as the audience arrives. As the lights dim, the dancers finish their warm-up, bow to assistant ballet master Kelley McKinlay, who leaves the stage as the ballet begins. Set to an unnamed classical composition of reverential or religious bent, the piece begins with a sextet of men at three metal bars. Traditional bar exercises are twisted in shape and orientation to create fascinating images; Hattori knows how to make the male body shine on stage.
Eventually the bars are dismantled with the long pipes becoming props to support the dancers and frame the dance. At one point Hattori (substituting for the injured Ryo Shimizu), on one end of the pipe is lifted up in a bar-version of crack the whip. His legs in attitude, he seems to swoop above the stage. The quasi-religious imagery becomes more apparent with the two pipes forming a cross, and finally a tall, cross-like sculpture. “Temple” is visually striking, complex and danced to perfection by the full cast (McKinlay, Hattori, Eli Barnes, Ian Buchanan, Nicolas Pelletier, Garrett Groat and Chris Kaiser.) It’s a ballet worth multiple viewings; one hopes there will be more chances to see the piece.
“Ruin/Time”, a pas de deux by Alexandrous Ballard, takes the program in distinctly more jagged direction. Danced by the original case, on and off stage partners, Kelley McKinlay and Reilley Bell, it’s the only piece to feature a woman. Though Bell’s red clad woman starts outside the spotlight that highlights McKinlay, she quickly becomes the dominant force. David Lang’s “Pierce” is a driving (and sometimes over-amped) soundtrack to a powerful piece. As the two come together, Ballard explores the possibilities of partnership. At one point, a lift builds until Bell is on McKinlay’s shoulders, his muscular body just barely visibly twitching in effort to keep the position stable.
The evening ended with the world premiere of Ballard’s “The Precise Nature of the Catastrophe”, set to a mixture of sound from Bach to Mantahau. Though the inspiration for the piece is never precisely listed, the description in the program strongly suggests that the catastrophe of note is the 2013 Alberta Floods. The exact background is unimportant; the piece stands on its own as a collection of striking movement even if it doesn’t necessarily bring to mind floods or other catastrophes.
From the beginning, it is clear that Ballard has found his muse in Yukichi Hattori. The curtain rises on a circle of men in black dresses; Hattori is in the centre and quickly stripped down to basic black briefs. What follows is a stunning display of muscular control as he extends and contracts his torso in series of snake like moves. There is sense of great power mixed with great vulnerability – a man stripped to the bare essentials trying to break free. Hattori’s short frame can look out of place in the classical canon, but here the modern choreography allows him to break free and he seems as large as any of the men onstage.
The male corps returns, now stripped down to identical black briefs. The music is as turns driving, atonal and yearning, the choreography measured and angular. It is, in some ways, a dance less about the specific steps, and more about the wonder of the male body. Muscles are freed from tunics and tights, exposed for all to see. There link between the body and steps, the muscles and the power is obvious and fascinating. As the piece draws to a conclusion, the men are back in the dresses, Hattori finally re-attired and cocooned again the circle. The men of Alberta Ballet have spoken, and it’s been a fabulous evening. Please come back again!