Ballet BC brings back Bill
Ballet BC artists perform Bill, by Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, with musician Ori Lichtik. The company premièred the work in Vancouver 2016 and is bringing it back as part of Program 3 May 10-12 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. (photo by Chris Randle)
What’s coming out of Israel is some of the “most exciting” dance, Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar told the Independent in a phone interview last week about the company’s upcoming program May 10-12, which includes the return of Bill, by Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, with musician Ori Lichtik.
“It’s moved around the world in different generations, where the leading focus is coming from in dance,” said Molnar, “and I think that Israel is, right now, very much one of the major centres…. There is something about the way that the body is being spoken through the dance that’s coming out of Israel that is very relevant right now … it’s exploring more the sophistication and the rawness and the curiosity and the aliveness of using the body in dance.”
Ballet BC performed the Canadian première of Bill in 2016 and have since toured nationally and internationally with it, as part of an evening of female choreographers, along with Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo and Molnar’s 16 + a room. Given the response to Bill after its première here, Molnar said, “It was just one of those things that, to me, was obvious – this needed to come back to Vancouver audiences.”
And it will be a somewhat different performance than it was two years ago. “It’s more in the skin of the performers,” said Molnar. She explained that, having toured with it, the piece is “more familiar” to the dancers, “so they can take different forms of risk than they did before, when they first learnt it. And, each year, we’ve been bringing someone who is familiar with the work and close to Sharon’s work to come and work with us on it, so we keep tuning it each time we do it.”
Ballet BC has only recently returned from six weeks in Europe. The company toured the United Kingdom with the Dance Consortium, which works with their network of presenters to put together a touring circuit for international companies. “They only do two a year, and we were one of them,” said Molnar. “Then we attached that to two weeks in Germany.” In Germany, Ballet BC was the first Canadian company to be invited to perform in Wolfsburg, for the Movimentos Festival, she said.
“There are really a few festivals in Europe that really are landmarks or venues,” she explained, saying that Sadler’s Wells in London, England, where Ballet BC also performed, and Wolfsburg were two of them. “And, next year, we’re going to Luxembourg, so that’s another big one. And then we’re going to Madrid, and also to Tel Aviv, hopefully. More and more touring is coming up for the company, which is really great for us. We love being here at home, for sure, but to be able to have more shows and to diversify audiences, we get more information about what works … we learn more about what we’re trying to do.”
Touring is a relatively new phenomenon, said Molnar. When she danced with the company, they may have toured a week and, when she started as artistic director almost 10 years ago, they weren’t touring at all, she said. “Then we started touring maybe two weeks of the year, and now, this year, we’re out about six or seven, and next year could be even more. There will be a limit, because we have to build a certain amount of work in order to do each season, so we’re not going to be a company that’s constantly on tour because we have a subscription series and we love being three times a year here in Vancouver.”
In many Ballet BC programs, audiences can expect to see a piece choreographed by Molnar.
“I work very closely with the dancers, with the company,” she said of her creative process. “I will often start with proposing ideas or text or ‘what if you tried this’ … and then we start to build some vocabulary. From that vocabulary, I start to compound it and build a dictionary and, from that, I start to place it into some form of a world…. I’m not someone who goes in and shows every step; I definitely cultivate a conversation or way of thinking about a theme or a topic … and then we start to see what comes out of it. I work a lot with improvisation before I get to things that are often scored. But, when I do score something – in other words, when I set it choreographically – I do often still try to keep some things that might be improvisational, but that’s not always the case.”
She said, “It’s more about finding unusual timings, unusual possibilities in the movement. I think that, although I’m very attracted to the expression of the body … there is usually always a concept for me of what I’m working with in the way that I grid, the way that I compose.”
Where the music comes in depends on the work. Sometimes it comes first, and that is the case with the work she has created for this season’s Program 3 with Graeme Langager, conductor of the Phoenix Chamber Choir.
Molnar said that she and Langager had been looking for awhile at how they could bring Ballet BC and the choir together in a performance. “We have a lot of shared philosophy,” said Molnar, so it was a case of “when can we make this happen, and this program seemed like the right one.”
Langager proposed a few compositions, and Molnar was drawn to one by Peteris Vasks called Plainscapes. But it’s a short piece, so that has been part of the challenge of choreographing it – “it’s only 15 minutes,” she said, “and I’m working with the full company, as opposed to a duet or something like that.”
As well, she said, there are 30 voices in the choir, a cello and a violin. “It’s this very beautiful, very intimate, but driving piece of music that has a mysterious urgency to it and I took it as a reflection of a landscape of memory, this desire to want to hold on to remembering something…. The more we lose memory of something, the more we want it to exist.” In her choreography, she tries to communicate that feeling – the desire to hold on to life, on to our memories.
When putting together a triple bill, Molnar said she looks first for diversity “that will take the audience, as a full evening, on a certain type of journey, as opposed to the same tone.
“It is always a risk when we’re doing new work,” she said, “but we don’t always have new work on the program. So, for instance, in this program, I knew mine would be new, so that’s an unknown, but I knew what Bill was and I knew what Beginning After was, which is the first work of the evening, which is a piece by our resident choreographer Cayetano Soto … to the music of [George Frideric] Handel, a beautiful aria. So, all of the pieces have a certain vocal aspect to them…. That wasn’t what drew me to say, oh, this evening is about the voice, but there is a certain type of humanity because the voice is involved in the musical aspect of the show. But there are things that are very different within each of the pieces, and then there is this real attention to the individual but also to the collective throughout each of the pieces.”
Next year will be Molnar’s 10th as artistic director of Ballet BC. Even before she got the job, she said, she had hoped that “its presence as a contemporary dance company, which was very clear before I ever joined as a dancer or as artistic director, would get, not just recognition but that it would have life outside of its own city and be an ambassador for all the new work” it was creating.
“It was not as known within the community as I thought it could be,” she said, noting that, for it to become known, some barriers had to be broken down about “what it meant to walk into a theatre under the banner of a ballet company.
“There are so many ways that can be,” she said, “and I’ve been really trying to work on that, that it’s really about having a conversation and it’s about sharing and it’s about understanding what dance can be, and it’s not about ballet, it’s about dance, it’s about art, it’s about community – and these are not meant to be catchphrases. Seriously, when you bring people together in a live performance and you have a conversation that’s been meaningful for a group of artists and you try to meaningfully extend that over to an audience and they care about it, then there are a lot of really exciting things that can happen.”
And one such exciting thing will be announced at Program 3. Ballet BC will be one of the first companies to commission the work of an emerging female Israeli choreographer so that, next season, Ballet BC will be performing three Israeli works. “We have Ohad [Naharin] coming back,” said Molnar. “We have another work of Sharon’s, a new work for us, and then….” (The JI is not one to ruin a surprise.)
Program 3 runs May 10-12, 8 p.m., at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets run from $35 to $100 and can be purchased from ticketmaster.ca or 1-855-985-2787.