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Ballet BC brings local luminaries to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary

By Brian Paterson

(Michael Slobodian photo)

(Michael Slobodian photo)

Ballet BC is back on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next week, celebrating the country’s 150th anniversary with a stellar line-up from local luminary choreographers.

Since its 2009 reinvention under artistic director Emily Molnar, the company has earned a reputation as a bold and innovative pioneer, presenting cutting-edge contemporary dance from such international phenoms as William Forsythe, Medhi Walerski, Cayetano Soto, and more.

While Canadian choreography has always been in this mix, next week’s Program 2 takes it to an exclusively local level, with four works – including three world premieres – created by an eclectic array of B.C. artists.

Among those contributing is Vancouver’s vibrant and contemporary Company 605. The commission marks the athletic, boundary-pushing innovator's first-ever collaboration with a ballet company.

"It’s really exciting for us to play on this larger scale,” said Company 605's Lisa Gelley, during a call with her and co-artistic director Josh Martin. “We don’t often get the chance to have our work performed at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre – and never with so many dancers!

“As soon as we got the opportunity to work with a greater number of dancers there were immediately some things that we wanted to try,” Gelley said.

The collaborators explained how much of their previous choreography utilized dancers moving in precise, sharp unison, but that in more recent work – including Vital Few, which premiered at last year's Vancouver International Dance Festival – they have been seeking to create a sense of togetherness or unity without regimented uniformity.

“We’re working to have the dancers track the same intentions and same momentum: kind of like a flock of birds or school of fish,” Martin said.

“So they’re sharing the same direction and impulses, but there is a freedom for the individual to chose different shapes, movement and context inside the dance they’re performing.”

Appropriate to a program celebrating Canada’s birthday, the duo have named their new work Anthem.

“We like the idea of an anthem where everyone can sing the same song, but not be the same people,” Martin explained when asked about the title’s origins.

“It’s our way of coming back to an idea of many people standing behind one cohesive message: one voice created by many different parts. That’s the main intention behind the work and the title,” Martin said.

When Anthem hits the stage next Thursday night, it will do so alongside three other works by some of B.C.’s most esteemed dance creators, including world premieres by Wen Wei Wang and Lesley Telford, as well as the remount of Crystal Pite’s critically acclaimed Solo Echo.

Each of these artists possess special connections to Ballet BC: For Pite and Wang, both were company members during their performance careers; for Telford, it was the first professional Canadian dance company to commission her work; and all three have previously contributed audience-favourite choreography to its eclectic, edgy repertoire.

“It’s pretty huge for us to be part of the same program as these guys. We have crazy respect for every one of them,” confessed Martin. "It’s humbling – and also very motivating, as we want to bring our own best to the stage with these awesome choreographers.”

Audiences can experience just what Gelley and Martin have in store from March 16 to 18, when Ballet BC presents Program 2 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets and info at balletbc.com.