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Ballet Edmonton’s “e-motion” tour presented by DanceWorks

Guest reviewer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator

Nanc Price

Toronto’s DanceWorks continues its diversely provocative season of dance with an exhilarating triple-bill program from Ballet Edmonton, a contemporary ballet company offering new and original works each season. This 90-minute performance featured eclectic storytelling by three outstanding choreographers interpreted by the bodies of 10 highly skilled and talented members of the company.

Act One began with “Persistence of Memory” by award-winning Artistic Director Wen Wai Wang. This 25-minute piece, set on a bare stage and (somewhat under) lit by lighting designer Dorrie Deutschendorf, was conceived out of the pandemic of 2020, fueled by our deprivation of human contact. The company, wearing black suits in the first section, moved quickly about the stage in intricate formations. Sharp staccato movements contrasted with beautiful soft fluidity and unbelievable synchronicity.
Wang utilizes the stage to the utmost, cleverly using space between his dancers to evoke separation and desire. Unfortunately, harsh spotlighting from above and behind the dancers kept their faces mainly in shadow, masking the full emotion of their performances. While this seemed an intentional decision, I felt it somewhat incongruous with the explicit physical emotions of the piece.

The second part of the number featured 3 couples in pas-de-deux, each telling their own story of connection. With breathtaking fluidity, each couple entwined their bodies, not always making physical contact, yet still moving as one being. The last part of the piece brought the company together again with more finely executed, synchronous and hard-hitting contemporary moves. An enthusiastic and well-deserved ovation for this fabulous company of artists capped off a wonderful start to the show.

After a 5-minute pause to re-set, the curtain opened on the second piece, “Black Moon” by Montreal choreographer Dorotea Saykaly. A single male dancer emerges in centre stage spotlight, performing vertical and horizontal contortions in slow motion, exhibiting mighty control, superhuman flexibility and phenomenally sensitive connection with the original score by Riku Mätinen. There’s definitely a mythical, sci-fi approach to this one, something post-apocalyptic even. Dressed in frayed and ripped grey togs, the performers writhe and gesture, elongating their backs, and legs in full extension. They come together in breathtaking unison, each performer an integral part of a larger, living unit. More sharp, distinct movements and provocative tableaus like bodies frozen in what appeared to be a running race, evoked powerful images of faith and desire. This piece showcased the immense condition of the dancer’s bodies as they seemed to effortlessly perform extreme core isolations while on relief for minutes at a time. Fantastic!

After a 20-minute intermission Act 2 brought us “Valei-mei” by choreographer Diego Ramalho. Mr. Ramalho brought us a different narrative, exploring feelings of belonging and how music evokes an unconscious connection to a place. Dancing to traditional Brazilian folk music, the entire company once again impresses with stunning synchronous movement under the golden lighting simulating the hot Brazilian sun, once again from designer Dorrie Deutschendorf. This time we could see each emotion, hear each breath, see each drop of sweat. The women had their own exquisite small group section, making powerful and sensitive connections to each other while maintaining the compelling narrative of music and soul. Later, a male dancer entered carrying pales of water, eagerly received by three other male dancers. The water was intentionally sloshed and splashed onto the stage with several members pouring most of it onto themselves at the end of the piece. I wasn’t sure about this part of the narrative here, but it was fitting for the last piece of the evening.

As a contemporary ballet company, Ballet Edmonton is breaking new ground. Its vision to explore new ideas with passion and curiosity is equalled only by its immensely talented ensemble of dancers and technicians. Their dedication to presenting thought-provoking works to the community through contemporary ballet while furthering the artistic development of its artists is both laudable and necessary. May they continue their journey to bring reflections of the world to stunning life through movement.

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