Renaissance is a mixed program between Ballet Kelowna and Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music. The collaboration started two years ago as an idea between Ballet Kelowna Artistic Director Simone Orlando and Continuum Contemporary Music Artistic Director Ryan Scott to present an evening of contemporary ballet and contemporary music inspired by the music of Renaissance masters. Presented in Vancouver as part of Chutzpah! PLUS (a bonus weekend to the festival held earlier this year), Renaissance featured four works, two of which had just premiered the week prior in Kelowna
The first of the new works was Folie à Cinq by Vancouver-based dance artist Heather Myers. In its vocabulary aesthetics, it was the evening’s most contemporary work. The women swapped pointe shoes for socks, and overall it favoured more fluid combinations. All five dancers (Desiree Bortolussi, Valentin Chou, Mark Dennis, Julie Pham and Heather Thomson) begin centre stage in grey costumes of varying designs. The choreography is at times cheeky, with the dancers looking directly out to the audience, and filled with quirks, such as a finger-leading motif that had me thinking of the animated fantasy worlds of Tim Burton. More than any other work on the program, Folie à Cinq asked that the dancers take an emotional journey; we see their connection as a group and individual explorations through grounded and playfully dynamic choreography.
Folie à Cinq featured a new composition by Canadian composer Michael Oesterle, performed by five members of Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music. It supported the very specific world the dancers inhabited in its range from more minimal offerings to quick, quirky tempos. Throughout the program, the musicians stood in various positions behind the dancers and in front of a coloured scrim that, with the lighting by Blaine Rittinger, lent additional mood.
The intensity and presence of the score came in and out in Folie à Cinq as the dancers explored a range of expansive movement mixed with inventive details.
Myers is under forty and already has some major national as well as international choreographic credits to her name. She brings her years as a professional dancer with Alberta Ballet, Boston Ballet and most recently with the Netherlands Dance Theatre to the creative space, as well as a freelance career performing works by notables such as Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe and Ohad Naharin.
In Orlando’s new work, Before and After, a guest apprentice joined the company bringing the cast of six to seven. The work, set to Night, herself by Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock, is a series of entrances and exits — tableaux that hint at the surreal. The deeper, darker chords of the piano and cello set the tone for edgy movement that abstracted classical lines and patterns, while the violin and clarinet brought lightness to faster moving intricacies. The dancers were dressed in jewel tones, skirts and sweaters for the women and pants and tops for the men. They later appear in only bodysuits or pants in one final moment of unison. The stripped-down ensemble finale appeared to be a compilation of everything that had come before, but where the work started with accumulative momentum, the conclusion came across flat.
I’ve never seen Orlando’s work before but it was refreshingly unconventional. The program note explains Before and After is about “the cyclical nature of artistic creation, how past performances influence creation today, which then serves as stimulation for future generations.” Orlando herself has had a successful and varied performance career, first with The National Ballet of Canada and then with Ballet BC, and in these emerging years as a choreographer, Before and After is an ode to the many influences of her past and a nod to her own creative future.
On May 5, Byrd Music (2011) by James Kudelka featured dancers Thomson, Dennis, Chou and Kurt Werner. It’s a highly musical quartet set to Vancouver composer Rodney Sharman’s Pavane, Galliard and Variations (Sharman and Kudelka work regularly together). The dancers, dressed simply in black and white tights and sleeveless tops, begin together, moving systematically through technical shapes, lightly supporting and manoeuvring one another. As the music picks up, it becomes more obvious that Thomson and Dennis are partners, though not necessarily romantically, and Chou and Werner are enabling their connection. The movement is stiff, a bit melancholic, and remains abstract throughout.
The technical capacity of the dancers was on full display in John Alleyne’s Split House Geometric (1989-1990). The piece begins with Pham and Dennis in a duet that covers the range of the stage, allowing both dancers a moment in the spotlight. The choreography is zealous yet specific, and masterfully matched to the minimal piece of music for violin and piano Fratres by Arvo Pärt. The second duet was equally as impressive, with a technicality skillfully performed by Thomson and Chou. The duets come together briefly, like the piano and violin, but explore their own dynamics and vocabulary.
Orlando took over Ballet Kelowna as artistic director and CEO in 2014. The small Interior BC company brings ballet all across the province with its touring, and after tonight’s program I can say BC is seeing some high-calibre dancing. This is a company well positioned to grow.