Ballet BC's Rite of Spring: a wonderful rite of passage for human artistic endeavor and technology
It had been a very long time since I had attended a ballet
performance. I sat in the QE Theatre, soaking up the
atmosphere, the conversation, the anticipation. It was all there
– everything for a great date event.
Ballet BC's final performance
for their 2004 to 2005 season had everything one could wish for.
The dancing evoked both the pathos and atheticism of the human
spirit. And it was downright sexy to watch. The sound system
was full if a bit loud for the first act. For the latter
performances, live musicians played off to the side of the stage or
downstage and never detracted from the performances, but somehow made
it more present. The music was contemporary, classical, or
modern. Something really for everyone.
And then there was the world premier of John Alleyne's “Rite of
Spring” based on the piano score by Igor Stravinsky, accompanied by the
mult-imedia video presentation of Jamie Griffiths.
A wonderful combination that updated a musical canon with provocative
dance and cutting edge digital video technology. But more of
The show opened up with “Like You” by Nicolo Fonte. The first
thing I was aware of was the almost overwhelming droning of the music,
like a full 5.1 surround system with massive sub woofers. It was
a very pleasant contrast to the tinny pre-recorded music that
accompanied so many ballet or contemporary dances of the past.
Today's audience is used to digital home theatre surround sound.
This set the atmosphere for the magnificient grace and beauty of
Fonte's “Like You.”
The costumes were simple. Red singlets for the men, that
really showed off their gluteus maximus muscles (Did I mention it had
been a long time since I last saw the ballet? I think it was the
Joffrey's dances set to the music of Prince in 1993). The women
wore red dancing shifts that flowed easily and evocatively. I was
really taken by the beauty of the physical human body, and how
deceptively smooth and light the dancers moved on stage.
Sometimes in pairs, trios or in large groups, movement flowed up and
around, swirling like swallows in a meadow, playfully, artfully,
15 Heterosexual Dances choreographed by James Kudelka contrasted
with the first piece by Fonte, both with it's lightheartedness and its
choice of classical music – Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata #9, Opus 47.
And yet it complimented the previous program by building a
balance… to the seriousness of the opening piece.
Kudelka is known as an innovative choreographer for this works with both the National Ballet of Canada and Les Grands Ballets to
push the envelope. He created mechanical repetitive movements
that at times seemed comical but were still deeply moving for the
overall presentation. Master musicians Jane Coop and Andrew Dawes
performed the Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano
from the left side off the stage. A spotlight shone on them,
highlighting the virtuosity of their performance but never detracting
from the dancers who moved in the dances of couples. It is a
beautiful piece that fit beautifully with the dancers and reminded
me of how I always and forever will associate J.S. Bach's Concerto in D
Minor for Two Violins to the beautiful choreography of George Balanchine's “Concerto Barocco.”
Very sexual without being explicit, always heterosexual, evocative,
sometimes angry, provocative, sometimes coy, seductive sometimes
disfunctional – in all the ways that heterosexual relationships are
known to be (and homosexual relationships too for that matter.)
The classical music was beautiful in its simplicity, as were the
costumes that were simple work clothes, dance shifts, velour gowns, or
What really stood out for me was that the dancers seemed to be colour-blind casted in their roles. The Ballet BC Dance dancers roster
is mostly visibly caucasian with two Chinese dancers and two
African-American dancers who were not always paired together to be a
“nice racial couple.” In fact, the dancers interact simply as
dancers, in inter-racial pairs or trios, as if race doesn't or
shouldn't make a difference. This seems to be in contrast to the
challenges faced by Asian Canadian actors for theatre, television or
movies as many local groups such as Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre challenge the Myths of Casting.
My event companion and both were struck by this, as we are very
aware that classical music is very integrated racially. Since we
are both multi-generational Chinese-Canadian, the recognition of dancers of Chinese
ancestry resonates strongly for us, especially since we are both involved in
inter-racial relationships ourselves.
John Alleyne (who incidently was born in Barbados) recieved the inaugural 2005 Vancouver Arts Award
for performing arts. He has greatly advanced his craft while
helming Ballet BC as artistic director. Bravo to Alleyne for
pushing the envelop on what is to many people, a “warhorse” both for
dance or for music. His version of Igor Stravinky's “Rite of
Spring” is intimate, opening with four-hand piano duo – banishing any memory recollections to the
moving dinosaurs in Walt Disney's Fantasia set to
Stravinsky's orchestral score or even of the large company of dancers
traditionally used for this piece originally choreographed by Ninjinsky for its 1913 premier. It was Ninjinsky's
ritualistic choreography combined with Starvinsky's primal musical
score outraged the Parisan audience causing a riot.
Thankfully, 21st Century audiences are much more appreciative of modern
and post-modern art. We have witnessed the sexual revolution in
both society and in art.
Alleyne's contribution for his version of “Les Sacre
du Printemps (Rite of Spring en francais) were not only to update a
more sexually provocative work, but also to ask multi-media artist
Jaime Griffiths to create
interactive video imagery including “live capture” as part of an
interactive moving video projection as a component part of the set.
The dance opens with scrim creating a “wall” between the audience
and the stage upon which a gentle image of leaves blowing, leaves
growing and leaves changing… was subtly projected. The dancing
was strong and provocative, and behind the scrim, it seemed projected
into a dream. It developed to demonstrate force and beauty,
with primal energy as conflict rose and ebbed between the
dancers.. Okay… sounds like a cliche – but watching
it in the moment, it was very exciting. I am at a loss of words
to describe it otherwise.
The piano duo James Anagnoson and Leslie
performed a fourhand one piano score as part of Alleyne's more intimate
and minimalist presentation. The pair is known as one of Canada's
foremost piano duos, and they provided a marvelous minimal soundscape,
emphasizing the beauty and immediacy of live music. Personally, I
loved hearing Stravinsky's score performed as a fourhand one piano
piece. This was adapted from the actual piano rehearsal score
that Stravinsky created for Nijinsky to work with.
Rite of Spring marries the technology of video and light with the
dance and Stravinsky's modern music. While Griffiths is known for her
cutting edge work with Joe Ink. for their collaboration of Grace, her
role with Ballet BC was much more subtle and complimentary.
Images of the dancers are “captured” and digitally enhanced/distorted
and then projected on the screen. It emphasizes movement as the
images decay on the screen. It also opens up possibilities of
what else could be done, as this new media merges more closely with
contemporary arts as we presently know it.
When Griffiths first showed me a video of her Grace performance, I was
very excited, as it reminded me of the exciting work done by Edouard
Locke and LaLaLa Human Steps, as they played with the interaction of
physical dance, light and sound. Griffiths as an artist is also
at that same innovative forefront. But while Grace was an
“in-your-face” performance theatre work, Griffiths contributions here
are much more subtle and complimentary. They enhance the dancing
experience as opposed to becoming the star or the object of the show.
“John was very trusting, and gave me lots of room,” says
Griffiths. “He has a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve
and he did it. Most other people I have worked with, have a general
idea that becomes focussed in the process, but John always knew what he
wanted. It's not a fully realized collaboration. This was meant to be a stepping stone, for
working with the interactive media. There's only so much you can
accomplish by having only a few days to work together.”
One can only imagine what will happen with John Alleyne and Jamie
Griffiths collaborate fully on a project. Ballet BC takes Rite of
Spring to Vancouver Island for additional performances. For
Griffiths, she takes Grace to the Edinburgh Festival, where it will be
introduced to presenters from around the world.
Check out Alex Varty's pre-performance interview with John Alleyne in the Georgia Straight:
Check out Kaija Pepper's review for the Globe & Mail:
Ballet B.C. offers a more intimate Rite of Spring