The Irvine Barclay Theater is quietly building an excellent dance series in its small performance venue in Orange County. Focusing on smaller, innovative contemporary companies like Italy’s Spellbound Dance Company, or Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Sydney Dance Company (both will perform on the upcoming Barclay Theater season) this year concluded with Vancouver’s Ballet BC in a repertory program of three recent ensemble pieces by three different dancemakers.
Ballet BC is a muscular, driven ensemble of sixteen dancers and their ethos is clearly derived from the Euro Zone franchise of Nederlands Dans Theater and Frankfurt Ballet which continue to export a contemporary vision of how ballet should look as well as supply of new choreographers with connections to both companies. That kind of wave riding can be both a blessing for dancers expanding their reach but also a curse. But as derivative choreography, Petite Cérémonie which closed the evening on Saturday, tended to look a little too much like its more unruly cousin, Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, which has been a staple for NDT, Bat Sheva, and others for more than two decades.
Medhi Walerski, who choreographed the work, starts out with an interesting enough premise, asking the dancers to riff on what “life in a box’ means to them. We get that the work is intended to carry an improvisatory sensibility, though it doesn’t always feel or look that way on stage. The men are suited up in black with white shirts like Naharin’s Minus 16 dancers. The women are in variously cut black dresses. The music is a similarly collaged version of classical vocal and instrumental scores, and lounge music. The central section passes through a series of duos set against Mozart. In Minus 16 the core moment is a pas de deux to a Vivaldi sacred work. These moments, and a comedic interlude with one of the dancers, Dario Dinuzzi, speaking and juggling three white balls, touch on many of the familiar markers from the Naharin work; though here, it manages to look just different enough. The opening statement as the lights come up on a stage area stripped to bare bones, makes a clever if obvious comment on the box idea. This box is, after all, where dancers and theater people live. What is delightful about the work is that the finished piece mostly leaves the original idea behind, enjoying a journey but forgoing a destination or conclusion.
In A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art), the choreographer, Jacopo Godani, did indeed seem to be essaying confinement issues in this ritualized, tribal work. With the dancer’s sexuality disguised by black trunks and veined patterns on sheer tops, they worked as a compact fifteen member unit or in phalanxes of four or five. Harsh lighting and a score by 48nord mixing electronics and acoustic textures played against roiling and extreme movement juxtaposing animal qualities, muscled gesture and rapid fire, hyper kinetic dance. At one point a ceiling of blinding florescent lights lowers to shrink the stage and confine the dancers. The lighting designs, also by Godani, favored effects that deliberately obscured more than they revealed. A.U.R.A. is a take-no-prisoners work in which the dancers operate at the extremes of physicality. It presses from beginning to end with relentless intensity, making out of the company a precision unit of virtuosic, dance cyborgs.
The remaining work on the program, Aniel (a version of angel from the Hebrew), was choreographed by company Artistic Director Emily Molnar. Where A.U.R.A. and Petite Cérémonie dwelt in a black and white universe, Aniel is a riot of color. The kool aid hued costumes and glowing lighting lent the work a cartoonish character. The costuming for Aniel, like the other works on the program, avoided footwear or bare feet entirely, in favor of socks. There are no real stories or characters here. The dancing centers simply on stripped down social interactions telegraphed via situations we all recognize. The isolated geek, the girl with hookups to burn, the spoiler, all have their moments. It’s set against a chamber sized ensemble playing jazzy, Klezmer tinged music composed by the prolific John Zorn.
As the geek, Darren Devaney created unexpected moments of brilliant floating jumps and beautifully articulated swinging limbs in his opening solo. Livona Ellis unleashed plenty of attitude as the girl who can afford to choose, then throw away her romantic liaisons. And Gilbert Small delivered powerful dancing and a kitschy, closing kiss, blown to the audience. Aniel is clever. There is plenty of humor, and the flow of the action, for shifting, small ensembles of dancers, is full of attractive pairings, with smart beginnings and endings. In a company that avoids a hierarchy of performers, you get the feeling the work could tell a slightly different tale with a new assortment of dancers.
(The reviewed performance took place at Irvine Barclay Theater on May 11, 2013. The music for the performance was prerecorded.)