Review: Ballet British Columbia, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Interrogating the nature of ballet itself, this boldly experimental performance goes far beyond the bounds of expectation. Made up of three distinctive pieces which explore new dimensions of movement, sound and light, the three female choreographers are true visionaries.

Emily Molnar’s “16 + a room” is a study of time and transition, playing with the abstract notion of what would happen, and what patterns would result, if 16 people were put into a tipping room. Set against jarring electronic music composed by Dirk Haubrich, the dancers render the irregular beat and metallic notes malleable, somehow matching the rhythm of their movements to the soundscape. The tension builds with the sonorous aggression, ensuring the aesthetic veers sharply away from the dainty elegance of traditional ballet. Costume Designer Kate Burrows brings out the unity of the ensemble with the simplicity of the genderless clothing. The females wear tight opaque mesh tops, freeing the nipple in a statement of non-sexualised liberation. Strange invisible forces appear to pull the limbs of the dancers, as they fluidly metamorphose. The group evokes the restlessness of an incessant insect, combined with the aggression and cyclicality of a machine, aligning the piece to our technological era.

Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo” provides a more melancholy exposition, searching to chart the human journey from adolescence to adulthood. Brahms’ cello sonata sets the deeply sombre tone, painting the dancer’s faces with expressions of sincerity. The interplay between performers is brought out, as virtuosic solos meld into more sensitive duets, all combining to give the piece a mature, collective sense of resolve. Calmness pervades the stage, focusing the eye on the subtlest alteration in body language. Pite’s choreography is rooted in Mark Strand’s poem “Lines for Winter”, which visually surfaces in the plume of snow, which creates a mystical backdrop; this plays with the spatial dimensions, as the surrounding shimmer elevates their bodies to a more intangible realm. Death concludes the journey, as a single body falls softly from the entity. This causes a domino effect to run backwards through the group, leaving nothing but a painful absence.

Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar ensure the audience leave infused with giddy wonder: the finale “Bill” is ripe with energetic humour and narcissistic confidence. Yellow suited bodies fill the stage, bouncing off the ecstatic pace of Ori Lichtik’s original soundtrack. Raw, imagistic and sensual, the human physique is pushed into contorted forms, accentuated by the skin-tight costumes that shed sharp light and jagged shade upon each convulsing muscle. Sass and sexuality are embraced in this futuristic ballet, which questions notions of the individual existing within the collective.

Ballet British Columbia is a pioneering force, perceptively shaping the landscape of contemporary dance with vigour and originality. What materialises onstage is defiantly other, skewing the usual lens with which we view human behaviour. As Molnar said in the post-show talk: “We do not have a conductor. We conduct ourselves”.

Ballet British Columbia performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 7 March 2018

Photo: Michael Slobodian (16 + a room)

Olivia Lunn

Olivia Lunn

Olivia is an English Literature undergraduate at UCL, who enjoys soaking up the music, theatre and art offered by the vibrant city of London.