With two world premieres, Grace Symmetry, Ballet BC’s audience favourite, will showcase the works of three diverse choreographers.
Vancouver’s Wen Wei Wang is remounting his work In Motion, which was performed by the company in 2011. “It’s nice; the first time it was very fast and the second time I’m able to make a few changes,” said Wang, “I feel much better. The dancers are more relaxed and they understand it better, can make it look better.”
The Turning Point Ensemble chamber orchestra will be partnering with Ballet BC on this show, as they did when Wang first presented the work. He took the opportunity to work closely with the musicians and have them on stage with the dancers. “It’s the only piece with musicians on stage,” he said. “Owen Underhill is conducting to the audience too instead of facing away,” explained Wang. “The conductor has to look over to the audience; he’s like a dancer too — I like to see the movement.”
Having the musicians on stage has an equalising effect, and they are just as much in the spotlight. “The music is a very important part of the piece. It’s a small orchestra; they become the set, a part of the work,” said Wang, “The audience can see something they normally don’t see.” This also makes the stage look fuller, and in some sections of the piece the musicians and dancers will interact, and they are integrated into the work.
The creative process for In Motion differed from how Wang normally works for his own company as he was limited to choosing music from the Turning Point Ensemble. “It was a different process for this; I had to work towards the music,” he said. But he doesn’t think one method is better than the other: “In another sense it’s great. I am just going for another kind of experience, there’s no right or wrong.”
“The music is a very important part of the piece. It’s a small orchestra; they become the set, a part of the work.”
Wen Wei Wang, choreographer
Wang also said that each piece he does is quite different; with his own company, the works are more personal. “In the beginning I don’t think about it for the audience,” he explained, “but what’s right for the moment, the music, and the dancers. Of course after a week or two you start thinking about the audience.” Regarding In Motion Wang said, “I want them to see the pure steps and emotions. Sometimes we think it’s deep, but the audience can’t get into it. It’s like music: you don’t have to understand it, but you can feel it.”
Similarly, Kevin O’Day wants the Ballet BC dancers to feel the movements and not rely on automatic cues. Back at Ballet BC after presenting Face to Face in 2010, he is creating a new work for the company that is about spontaneity and the relationship between time and space.
This world premiere is titled Here On End, and O’Day said he was excited about the “beautiful opportunity of live music and the ability to explore contemporary classical music” with the Turning Point Ensemble. At his home company, Ballet Mannheim, O’Day uses live music for all of his shows.
“We’re never really comfortable in creation — there’s a conflict of creation always at hand.”
Kevin O’Day, choreographer
Even though he is away from Mannheim, he said being at Ballet BC has a similar feeling: “Emily Molnar has made a great creative environment.” He enjoys working with the company and described them as an “extremely open group,” saying “the work environment is one of willingness to explore new movement. It’s a very process oriented company.”
If the piece he’s creating doesn’t have a story or narrative, then it is collaborative and he works with the dancers to develop material together; they have to build the raw materials and develop the movements first before the piece can take shape. Although Ballet BC has a comfortable working environment, O’Day said, “We’re never really comfortable in creation — there’s a conflict of creation always at hand, but the environment and the willingness helps. There’s safety in a group that’s willing and able to trust.”
O’Day doesn’t try to pinpoint how an audience will react to his work. “It’s important to stay working on this idea that’s made to be presented,” he said, “attaching an artist with the work so they can feel the work and embody it so that the audience can come away feeling something.” There may be subtextual sentiments he’s trying to get across, but people are free to have their own interpretations. “I don’t want to be present as a choreographer on stage,” he said, “my goal is to remove myself.”
Here On End features the same composer and collaborators as 2010’s Face to Face, and the piece uses every company member and apprentice, but other than that it’s very unique.
O’Day described the concept of this work as music in connection to space and time, with open spaces in the music. John King’s time vectors/still points has minutes of open time which are never exactly the same, so there is an organic configuration of the music. “The dancers have to be aware of sound cues,” said O’Day. “It’s something that I’m interested in — organic configuration of space and time.”
Creating another world premiere for Ballet BC, Medhi Walerski is back after his popular Petite Cérémonie which was presented in 2011.
His new work features the whole company and is titled Prelude, using Russian composer Lera Auerbach’s Ten Preludes for Violin and Piano. As the title of the music suggests, there will only be a violinist and pianist from the Turning Point Ensemble accompanying the work.
“You choose the brushes and the colours, and then you begin to paint. There’s a whole creative process that happens before creating the piece.”
Medhi Walerski, choreographer
Walerski said he decided to work with the idea of time, specifically the idea of a prelude, something that happens before something else: “At first I thought maybe this work was a prelude to Petite Cérémonie, or that they would work well together,” but he said that they are very different. “Petite Cérémonie was lighter, more theatrical,” he said, “all my works are very different.”
Walerski’s creative process involves a lot of research: “I collect different information and try to create a music collection, images, photos, texts, and things that inspire me to create material. I like to have a lot of information,” he said. Post-research, he begins to create phrases of movement and work with the dancers, looking for raw material. He likes to work collaboratively with the dancers, allowing them to add something personal to the work.
“We played for a week, then had a bunch of ideas, and then in week two we began to build bit by bit,” said Walerski. “You then have all these ideas, but they don’t always fit — the hardest part is that you have to get rid of things and there are maybe one or two ideas that are really good.” He compared the process to painting: “You choose the brushes and the colours, and then you begin to paint. There’s a whole creative process that happens before creating the piece.”
The moment Walerski sees his piece on stage on opening night is when everything comes together. “A piece really finds it’s own identity at the end with the lighting and the audience,” he said. Opening night is not only stressful for the dancers, but for the choreographers sitting in the audience, watching their creations coming to life. “It’s exciting and frightening, but I guess that’s why I do it,” he laughed, “I’m sweating more than the dancers.”
Grace Symmetry will be presented by Ballet BC at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Feb. 20 to 22. For more information, visit balletbc.com.