Ballet Jorgen Canada is known primarily for its pocket versions of the classic repertoire that the company tours throughout the country. A lesser-known fact is that BJC is also the home of contemporary ballet (both off-pointe and on), having premiered 195 new works by 78 choreographers during its 25-year history.
Formation is the umbrella title of its latest mixed program that features three new works by heavy hitters Robert Desrosiers, Malgorzata Nowacka and Allen Kaeja. Two 2011 pieces by artistic director Bengt Jorgen and Derek Sangster complete the evening. Collectively, the five works make for a very stylish program of contemporary ballet.
Robert Desrosiers is back with a vengeance. At one time, he was one of the most famous choreographers in Canada with his unique fusion of whimsy and gymnastics, but he lost his company when his funding was pulled. Now, for BJC, he has crafted the delightful Bouffonia, his homage to old-world clowns inspired by commedia dell'arte, 19th-century European opera and silent movies. Once again, the audience is treated to Desrosiers's singular imagination, a world filled with intriguing characters, costumes and props that crisscross the stage.
Desrosiers's piece is constructed out of a series of vignettes, which is his customary presentation. With names like Parade, Orchestra and Dream, each of the seven scenes unleashes a stream of images that reach out to our collective unconscious – a bearded lady, a balloon-seller with a lion's head, and sad-sack, mandolin-playing Pierrot.
And then there is the dance itself, roaring across the stage like the restless energy of a tidal wave, filled with jumps, kicks, turns and abrupt changes of direction. Composers Eric Cadesky and Nick Dyer have given Desrosiers a clever Federico Fellini-inspired original score. Bouffonia received a standing ovation perhaps because it touches the child's wonderment in us all.
The new works of Nowacka and Kaeja are both edgy and eye-popping.
Nowacka's on-pointe Séance for three couples looks at romantic relationships through the prism of memory – disturbing thoughts that dredge up old hurts and frustrations. The piece, set to a pastiche industrial soundscape, is constructed around dangerous partnering, which gives Séance its heart-stopping drama.
Kaeja's trio for three men uses Edgardo Moreno's rhythmic electronic music to show interior struggle as the dancers grapple with choice and decision-making. As the trio entangle themselves together in a convoluted series of lifts, they become more vulnerable. We understand their quest for peace in a cutthroat world.
Jorgen's own Life and Laughter, performed to a spritely 19th-century piano concerto by Ignaz Moscheles, is an absolute charmer filled with coquettish, giggling girls and ogling, testosterone-raging boys.
The weakest work on the program, although the audience seemed to love it, is Sangster's Good Mourning, where he goes through the five stages of grief as developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Unfortunately, Sangster's jazz dance, easy flow, contemporary movement all looks the same. It also doesn't help that the irritating Paul Schwartz score transposes beloved opera and choral arias into insipid, new-age, rhythmic drivel. The problem with this piece is its sameness, both visually and aurally.
If one is a ballet purist, the uneven heights of the BJM dancers and their jagged lines might mar the evening. For audience members who prefer personality and expression over empty technique, the talented BJM company fits the bill.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Excerpts of Formation will be performed at Halifax's Lillian Piercey Concert Hall on Oct. 18. The entire program will tour Canada during the 2014-15 season.