Artists of Ballet BC in a previous production of Bill. (photo by Cindi Wicklund)
Ballet BC’s 2019/20 season marks its 34th anniversary year, as the company continues to celebrate life as movement. The new season features a North American première, a Ballet BC première and the return of five renowned choreographers.
Reveling in the beauty of our humanity, the season opens with Program 1, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. It features the première of BUSK by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton and B.R.I.S.A. by Johan Inger. Inspired by the world of busking and set to an atmospheric score, Barton’s BUSK showcases her versatile and poignant choreography. Inger’s B.R.I.S.A., a probing and liberating piece exploring themes of awakening and change, returns to the stage by popular demand.
In Program 2, March 4-7, the company revisits the pleasure, pain and politics of young love with Romeo + Juliet by Medhi Walerski. In response to unprecedented demand and soldout performances for 2018’s world première of Romeo + Juliet in Vancouver, Ballet BC returns to this iconic story set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Crafted by Walerski, an original voice in international dance, it is an innovative and contemporary retelling of the full-length classic.
The season closes May 7-9 with the return of two of the most influential artists in international dance today, both of whom are from Israel. Ballet BC will be the first North American company to perform Hora by Ohad Naharin, following the success of the audience favourite Minus 16 in previous seaons. Program 3’s dynamic lineup features the much-anticipated return of Bill by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.
For the holidays in December, Ballet BC presents Alberta Ballet’s retelling of holiday classic The Nutcracker. With choreography by Edmund Stripe, sets and costumes designed by Emmy Award-winning designer Zack Brown, and Tchaikovsky’s musical score played live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, this extravagant production is set in turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia. Reflecting an era noted for its opulent grandeur, this show, which runs Dec. 28-30, displays more than a million dollars in sets and costumes.
“In 2019/20, we are excited to continue a dialogue about dance and its power to transform and connect us in ways that echo across time, place and culture. Today, more than ever, we need channels of expression that examine society and our place in it,” said Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar. “Dance can move people to feel and interpret life in new and meaningful ways. This season we are eager to delve deeper into a dance with each of you.”
All performances are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at balletbc.com.
Ballet BC dancers Scott Fowler and Parker Finley in rehearsal for the company’s final program of the season, which features all Jewish community choreographers. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
Ballet BC concludes its season May 9-11 with Program 3, featuring all Jewish community choreographers: Israel’s Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, Vancouver’s Serge Bennathan and Israel’s Ohad Naharin.
Program 3 begins with the North American première of Eyal and Behar’s Bedroom Folk and concludes with the return of Naharin’s Minus 16, a crowd-pleaser that Ballet BC presented in 2017. The middle piece, by Bennathan, is a world première, commissioned by Ballet BC.
“Emily Molnar invited me to create a work for the company,” Bennathan told the Independent in a phone interview. “That’s it. All the rest is for me to create what I want for them.”
Given that leeway by Molnar, Ballet BC’s artistic director, Bennathan said he wanted to create a work for all the dancers.
“I’m so in love with the company that I felt it will be wonderful to have them all, mostly for the kind of work I do,” he said.
“When I create work, whatever it is, for my company or another company, I always say I like to have the group of people that are strong individuals that make sense together,” he explained. “That is exactly what the company is right now. If you take Ballet BC now – individually, they are quite fantastic, each of their personalities, they’re fine, but they make so much sense together. That’s the beauty of it.”
Bennathan was born in France and came to Canada more than 30 years ago. Artistic director of Toronto’s Dancemakers from 1990 to 2006, he then came to Vancouver, where he founded Les Productions Figlio.
“My work, I would say, is quite physical, but my point of departure is to work from the energy. Not the energy being exuberant or something like that, but the energy that makes you move. So, you have to be present in the moment with your body and move from inside…. You have to find it in yourself to move.”
Bennathan has created many full-length works, both for his own companies and others, and he has a long history with Ballet BC.
“My first-ever commission was the first time I came to Vancouver. Reid Anderson was the artistic director,” he said. “I had just arrived in Canada. I was a young immigrant and I was doing work here in Vancouver and they saw my work and they invited me to create. The first-ever piece was a duet. And then, throughout the years, the invitations kept coming, so I created.”
Set to an original score by Montreal-based composer Bertrand Chénier, Bennathan shared a little about next month’s première, as well as his creative process.
“It’s [about] how do you find the form of resilience. How do you sustain that [thing] that keeps your head above water? That’s what it is,” he said of the work.
“Before I create the piece with dancers, I spend time [on my own] – I paint, I sew and I write and I explore these ideas that come to me through painting; not to paint movement … but to try to extract what it means in a poetic way. So, when I ‘write,’ in the studio with the dancers, what happens is, when I choreograph, I don’t think about the piece. I let my body talk because I believe that the mounds and mounds and mounds that I read – like, for this one, I read a lot of poetry, I painted, I wrote poetry – when I’m in the studio with them, I just let my body talk when I choreograph. And then they grab it. But this is only the beginning. After that, there is another period. I don’t want them to do exactly what I did. The movement can transform itself – what needs to stay true is the essence of why we did this movement at the beginning.”
For Bennathan, dance is more than an art form.
“I left my family quite early, I was 14 years old. Let’s say, my life was taking a direction that, deep inside me, I knew it was not the direction I wanted to take. I want to say [that] to people because, sometimes we see a lot of youth and we say, ‘Oh, you should get out of this, or you should do this …’ but the fact is, sometimes, mostly when you are young, you are taken into a spiral and you cannot get out. And, if you do not have the opportunity, or create yourself the opportunity, to lead you to someone that can tell you a word or a phrase that will change you or offer something you can open the door to, you are in a terrible situation, you cannot get out. I was able to have this in my life and … at 14, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to leave this, I’m going to Paris, I’m going to study dance, and that’s what I want to become, a dancer. This saved me, literally. I needed to do this to get out of a situation I didn’t want for me.”
Bennathan described dancers as “courageous, at all levels; not courageous just to apply themselves physically – because it’s there, they have the courage to abandon themselves into this art form – but, at the same time, to live as a dance artist. And, even more in our days, you have to be courageous, you have to have resilience.”
He said he can’t just invite talented dancers from other parts of the country to come work with him here because Vancouver has become so expensive. “Young artists or young families cannot come live here anymore. That’s the thing. And you have to be courageous to say, ‘OK, I’m going to come.’… These days, you don’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to live in Vancouver.’”
Bennathan believes in the power of dance, and art in general, to improve the world.
“A lot of people say ‘art can save the world,’ but why can you say that? It’s because we need the inspiration, we need poetry in our lives. Sometimes, poetry, these days, is dismissed. We so forget the importance of the inspiration of poetry in our day-to-day lives. There is a reason, not only in North America, but everywhere in the world right now … why cynicism is the most important thing…. It’s because we left all this – whether it’s writing poetry, written poetry or dance or music – we stop these art forms at the door instead of inviting them into our lives.” If we did invite them in, he said, “we would talk differently and we would start to see things differently.”
Program 3 is at Queen Elizabeth Theatre May 9-11, 8 p.m., and Ballet BC will celebrate 10 years with Emily Molnar as artistic director with a reception after the closing performance on May 11. For tickets to the performances, visit balletbc.com. Tickets for the reception are available via eventbrite.ca.
Choreographer Emanuel Gat, who was in Vancouver for a few weeks at the beginning of the year, will return for the Ballet BC world première of his new work. (photo by Wendy D Photography)
Ballet BC finishes this season May 11-13 with Program 3, which features a world première by choreographer Emanuel Gat, an almost world première by Emily Molnar and the Ballet BC première of Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin.
“I have long admired the works of Emanuel Gat and Ohad Naharin and have been eager to bring them to our artists and audiences,” says Molnar, artistic director of Ballet BC, in the press release announcing the program. She isn’t the only one to admire the creativity of choreographers Gat and Naharin, and many dance fans will be excited to see their work performed. Professional dancers age 16 and over will even have a chance to learn with Gat in person on May 6, when he teaches excerpts from the 30-minute piece he created for the full Ballet BC company (balletbc.com/choreographic-workshop-emanuel-gat).
Both Gat and Naharin started their dance careers relatively late, in their 20s, but have more than made up for any lost time. Born in 1952 in Kibbutz Mizra, in northern Israel, Naharin has been artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company since 1990 and is the creator of the movement language called Gaga – it is not an exaggeration to say he is an icon of contemporary dance. Born in Netanya in 1969, Gat is artistic director of Emanuel Gat Dance, which he established in 2004, and his works have been performed around the world.
Gat’s career trajectory changed when, at age 23, he attended a workshop led by another Israeli choreographer, Nir Ben Gal.
“I was studying music at the time,” Gat told the Independent in an email interview. “I’d just started a first year at the Rubin Academy of Music, and intended to be a conductor. I stopped a few months after starting to dance.”
Within a couple of years, Gat was working as an independent choreographer. When he founded his company, it was at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, which Batsheva Dance Company also calls home. However, after about 15 years in Tel Aviv and a few in the south of Israel, Gat moved to France in 2007, where he lives in a small village near Aix-en-Provence.
One of the aspects Gat most likes about being a choreographer is that “you work with a group of people, that it’s not a solitary process, and that it’s always full of surprises and insights.”
In various interviews, he has stressed the importance of process in the creation of a work.
“Time, space and eager dancers, basically,” he said of the elements needed for a creative environment. “All the rest is a result of an ongoing process of examining different questions regarding these elements, the way in which they come together and affect each other.”
While the Ballet BC program doesn’t name Gat’s new work, his website lists it as Lock.
“It comes from a certain task I gave [the dancers] on devising ways of joining two separated phrases,” he said about the title. “One of the strategies they came up with, they named ‘lock,’ which I liked the sound of.”
Gat was in Vancouver for a few weeks at the beginning of the year to create the piece, he said, and he will be returning “to finalize the work and create the light[ing] for it.”
“I’m very happy about this project,” he said, “and it was a lot of fun creating together with this talented bunch.”
Heading the talented bunch at Ballet BC since 2009 has been Molnar. The National Arts Centre in Ottawa commissioned her latest work as part of ENCOUNT3RS. The NAC presentation paired “three Canadian choreographers with three Canadian composers to create works with original scores, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary,” notes the Ballet BC release. Molnar’s creation, set to a score by Canadian composer Nicole Lizée, saw its world première in Ottawa at the NAC April 20-22 and local audiences will see it as part of Program 3.
Rounding out Program 3 is Naharin’s Minus 16. Unfortunately, the choreographer won’t be able to make it to Vancouver for the performance. For just over two months now, he and Batsheva Dance Company dancers have been developing Venezuela, a full evening work set to start its première run at the Suzanne Dellal Centre May 12. But Batsheva personnel will be helping Ballet BC rehearse their first Naharin work.
“I have a team that can do it without me, though I would love to join all the premières,” Naharin told the Independent in a phone interview from Tel Aviv. “I trust them,” he said. “They have done it before without me many times.”
At the start of his career, he said, “I didn’t have the safety net of people I can trust and that knew how to do it; I didn’t have the skill myself to teach other people how to do it. Over the years, and especially with Minus – because Minus has been done by a lot of companies and also it’s a work that we do, or we do versions of it – my assistants have become experts at doing it and teaching it. It’s true that still, given the control freak that I am, it’s an exercise of letting go each time, but it’s a good exercise.”
The Ballet BC program description of Minus 16 mentions its “mesmerizing use of improvisation.”
“The idea is to give dancers as much information as possible, because it’s not about free form or do whatever you want,” explained Naharin about how improvisational aspects are “written” into a piece of choreography. “It’s about basing your intention, dynamics, texture, volume on very clear ideas, and those ideas are shared with the dancers, then they improvise and they get feedback. Usually, it’s not about what not to do. Feedback usually will highlight what was weak or what was right, what was the moment that produced what it needed. What is nice about the situation is that it can offer a [dimension] that I didn’t write that can be just as good, if not better sometimes.”
But, he said, about Minus, “There is very little improvisation in the piece, actually. What has made the piece easy to teach … is that it is very structured. Also, some of it is built on repetition and accumulation; it is not crowded with a lot of steps. Some of my work has a more complex structure, many different people doing different things and different movements, and that takes a lot of time and also skills and experience to learn and to teach. With Minus, a lot of it is unison and a big chunk of it is about repetition and accumulation, and very clear counts – so many times, my work is done to music that doesn’t have a groove or a beat, and the manic of the movements comes from listening to each other and understanding the essence of the creative pulse of the movement. With Minus, almost all the movements are counted and based on a particular rhythm that also comes from and is supported by the music. The improvisation part of Minus is meaningful, but it’s not the big part of it.”
Originally created in 1999, Minus 16 is “set to a score ranging from Dean Martin to mambo, techno to traditional Israeli music.” Of what ties its elements together, Naharin said, “I think, in balance, what ties things together in a right way is not how different the ingredients are from each other or how similar they are, but it’s how you try to create the right tension between all the elements.
“It’s just like if you go and look at the landscape. Sometimes it can be just desert and sky, and sometimes it can be a landscape that’s crowded with a lot of elements, including bridges or houses or the sun or clouds or birds or animals or people or machines, and it can still create something that is coherent and clear. It can also create, potentially, the sensation of ‘wow!’ And the reason it’s all connected is not because of what the ingredients are but how they are all organized.”
While there are no rules about what music can go with another music, he said, “a choreographer has his own rules, or his own code.” He explained that a choreographer could set an evening-length work to only the music of Mozart and still the work’s elements may not connect well, whereas shorter pieces set to vastly different music could work together well as a whole – “you could put John Zorn with Vivaldi and it can be magnificent,” he said. “It has to do with creating the right tension and the right mix.”
Naharin has been creating that balance since his choreographic debut in 1980.
“There are a few things I can think of immediately,” he said about what he loves about his work. “One of them is the pleasure of research and finding things that I didn’t know existed before I found them, couldn’t even imagine before I found them, and I find them in the process.
“Another thing is the pleasure of working with a brilliant, generous, beautiful, creative group of people that I love; learning from them and sharing with them what I learn.
“I love what the dancers offer me. Not when they show me my choreography but when they show me their interpretation of my choreography, and when they can offer a narrative that I didn’t write. That can be very moving.
“I like to dance. I love to move. I love to make up movements. I need to dance. It’s something that, if I don’t do it, I’m unhappy.”
He added, “For me, to dance is not about performing. I don’t need an audience to dance.”
One of his favourite places to dance? “I love to dance in the shower.”
Anything else he’d like Jewish Independent readers to know? “Just not to forget to dance a little bit every day.”
Program 3 runs May 11-13, 8 p.m., at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets range from $21.25 to $91.25 and can be purchased from 1-855-985-2787 (855-985-ARTS) or ticketmaster.ca. For more information, visit balletbc.com.