Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA
June 24-28, 2015

Marni LaRose

Peter Smida and Emily Chessa of Ballet BC in Twenty Eight Thousand Waves Photo Christopher Duggan

Peter Smida and Emily Chessa of Ballet BC in Twenty Eight Thousand Waves
Photo Christopher Duggan

When the curtain rises on William Forsythe’s workwithinwork, the first of three pieces danced by Ballet BC in a diverse program presented at Jacob’s Pillow this week, it is the beautiful lighting (designed by the choreographer) that first catches the eye. Dancers appear in groups, the light casting oblique shadows of definition on their formations as they spring into action. They recombine [HD1] into smaller or larger groupings, as here and there one dancer invariably breaks apart and dances to his or her own master.

The coming and going of dancers, deliberately walking in and out with purposeful heel to toe sound from darkened, vignette borders, is a constant in the piece. During these exchanges, dancers stand in statuesque stillness, in clusters or alone, while others dance. In another presentation, it might seem as though they are waiting idly for their turn to perform, but in this arrangement they seem to form a sculptural tableau. Each time they step up to dance, and with each new configuration, they explore new combinations and they themselves are, in a way, reinvented.

The movement is clearly contemporary, so much so that it is startling to see a dancer suddenly stand straight up on pointe, continuing in the same vein but from her place on high. It is only then that one notices that the female dancers are wearing toe shoes and, at that moment, one is reminded, this is Ballet BC.

Powerful, precise, controlled movement are signature commonalities in the three pieces presented at The Pillow, all by internationally renowned choreographers, and each, in its own way, touching on the concept of transformation. Forsythe’s choreography is the only piece in this program in which dancers appear en pointe, but the training, the lines, the underlying vocabulary and technique are all undeniably ballet based.

Piece number two, Consagración, choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” commissioned by Ballet BC and premiered by the company in May of this year, raises the stakes even higher. It is an ambitious interpretation of this iconic piece and, potentially, the most ambiguous and controversial to date.

The curtain opens on male and female dancers dressed alike in short white shrouds. They appear in various states of frozen wonderment as though they are experiencing life in their own skin for the very first time. They sample and experiment like innocent pupa emerging from chrysalis, eventually walking slowly into the vast darkness of the upstage, as into a distant, fathomless unknown.

Stravinsky’s score is the inescapable driving force in the choreography but the lighting (designed by James Proudfoot) is a powerful element in highlighting the transition from “songs of innocence” to “songs of experience.” Dancers attract, contract, and recoil from one another, and arguably from themselves, with amorphous sexuality. In the mid-section, there is a partial shedding of the white tunics and in the quieter moments of the score, tender nuzzling, where partners begin to explore and submit to, rather than contest, their own sexuality.

Racheal Prince, Connor Gnam, Emily Chessa, and Gilbert Small of Ballet BC in Twenty Eight Thousand Waves Photo Christopher Duggan

Racheal Prince, Connor Gnam, Emily Chessa, and Gilbert Small of Ballet BC in Twenty Eight Thousand Waves
Photo Christopher Duggan

In the final section, all the dancers appear as though unclothed, the women wearing sheer, nude body suits that put their upper torsos on par with the men. In this section of the dancing, bodies interweave and intertwine testing how they might fit with one another, like trying pieces in a puzzle — men with women, women with women, men with men — hovering but not touching until, in a powerful male pas de deux, contact is made. Bodies find each other, make contact, find a fit, resist, split apart, seek again. Sexual identities are ambiguous as are the outcomes. There are even insectile references reminiscent of Jerome Robbin’s The Cage set to another Stravinsky score. The piece is full of powerful contradictions and subject to interpretation. What is not subject to interpretation is the sheer brilliance of the choreography and the dancing.

In Cayetano Soto’s Twenty Eight Thousand Waves, the lighting, designed by the choreographer, is also an integral part of the choreography. In the opening segments to his piece, Cayetano bathes the stage in filtered light, from a seemingly cathedral high ceiling. The music has a hymnal aura, the dancers move with reverence. A glaring light grid descends eye level with the audience, the music evolves into deconstructed orchestral interpretations; the dance accelerates, adapting to this new level of energy while the audience adjusts to the blinding white lights that descend lower and lower as the piece reaches its crescendo. In this work, as in all the pieces, the dancing is razor sharp and without strain, and the speed, agility and balance of the dancers is rendered all the more remarkable by their superhuman ability to stop on a dime with uncanny consistency.

With the introduction of works such as Sansano’s Consagración and the naming of Cayetano as Resident Choreographer for the next three years, Ballet BC seems determined to transform our notions of contemporary ballet. Emily Molnar is a brave and innovative Artistic Director who is not afraid to take risks. With the individual artistry and technical prowess of Ballet BC’s 18 dancers, her vision has no bounds.