Walking Mad and Other Works
Ballet British Columbia
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver on Thursday
The three works on Ballet BC's latest mixed bill don't have a lot in common – which is a good thing in terms of keeping an audience engaged over a whole evening. The bill opened with two premieres: artistic director Emily Molnar's between disappearing and becoming, which was urgent and sexy, followed by Aszure Barton's lively, folk-dance inflected Vitulare. The final piece – Johan Inger's Walking Mad – dared something quite complex: It made us laugh and then, as a subtext of madness and sorrow slowly played out, it made us cry.
Inger's Walking Mad premiered with Netherlands Dance Theatre in 2001, where he was then a company dancer. Several groups have since performed it, including Cullberg Ballet when Inger became their artistic director (the Swedish choreographer now works independently). Molnar saw the popular work on video, and grabbed it for this Canadian premiere.
Walking Mad, for nine dancers, began with humour: Standing at the front edge of the stage, Gilbert Small placed his open palm under the bottom of the stage curtain, which hadn't yet risen, and pushed upwards, his muscular strength appearing to be the force making it rise. When Connor Gnam and Livona Ellis started a duet to Ravel's Boléro, passion took over. Then Gnam pressed himself against the freestanding wall at the centre of the stage; suddenly a door opened and swallowed him up – at which point I stopped trying to pigeon-hole anything. This includes the men wearing pointy red party hats while they gyrate gleefully. And the unhappy woman in a red dress trapped in the corner of a room (the wall, which hinges in the middle, shifts throughout to create different spaces). The sad resolution comes in the final duet, set to the poignant Für Alina by Arvo Pärt, in which Makaila Wallace and Small lovingly perform Inger's erratic dance, her distraction driving him to find out what's on the other side of the wall.
Barton's Vitulare (to sing or rejoice) has the razzle-dazzle we've come to expect from the Edmonton-born artist (who received the 2012 Koerner Award in choreography from the Banff Centre). Maybe it's because she's lived in New York for the last 14 years, and some of that American brashness has rubbed off. There is no subtext in Barton's work – or if there is, it's invisible – but the dancing is so enthusiastic it doesn't matter. To a score mostly made up of European folk songs, the 16 dancers stamp their feet and click their heels like they're wearing red Cossack boots (they're actually in black socks); later, they jump straight up into the air and twitch their feet like Irish dancers from Riverdance. Guest artist Darren Devaney, also Edmonton-born, brings a delightful sense of character that ties the piece together: He's a cheeky village boy who can dance like the wind.
Finally, the main ingredients of Molnar's between disappearing and becoming are the women's gliding steps on pointe shoes, the men's dark suits, the many entrances and exits, and the tumultuous torsos and arms. And the rich rumbling cello music by Icelandic composer Hildur Gudnadóttir. The piece for 13 dancers needed a bit more cooking but it wasn't a bad place to start things off, and the evening built steadily to a powerful finale.
Walking Mad and Other Works continues in Vancouver through Saturday, and is in Surrey, Maple Ridge and Chilliwack March 13-17 (Ticketmaster: 1-855-985-2787 or ticketmaster.ca).
Special to The Globe and Mail