CENTRE STAGE: Inspiring dance, a bold musical, and two upcoming shows

Ballet BC's Natus focused on and explored celebration in different contexts.

Program 2 – Ballet BC

March 17–19; Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Mehdi Walerski’s range and versatility as a choreographer was on display for this evening featuring one remount and one world premiere. Working with Arts Umbrella dancers to grow the company to over 25, Walerski’s extended version of Prelude explores the how to balance order and chaos.

Prelude is full of poetic movement that creates a dynamic spatial landscape on the stage.  The dancers were dressed in black pants and bare chests, and the simple costumes matched Walerski’s simplicity of lines, patterns, and richly textured use of the space. The effect was calming and exemplified Walerski’s layered approach to choreography.

The world premiere, Natus, had a very different tone and explored the idea of celebration in many contexts including births, deaths, historical events, or special occasions. The state of celebration, varied and intense, was expressed through choreography that created a sense of unrest and uncertainty.

Dancer Peter Smida came down the aisle of the theatre to begin the piece, talking about tickets and dancing with an audience member before proposing to her. He talks directly to the audience throughout the piece, asking, “Where the hell is the party” and saying, “Happy Birthday” to numerous objects, people, and abstract concepts. There is a sense of desperation to find celebration and not miss that opportunity to acknowledge the occasion. Both of Walerski’s works were captivating and this evening was a wonderful addition to the Ballet BC season.

Vital Few – Company 605

Vancouver International Dance Festival

March 17–19; Roundhouse Performance Centre

Created over a two year period, this work was previewed at last year’s Vancouver International Dance Festival (when the company called themselves the 605 Collective), and it was back this year in its fully conceived form. The work explores the idea of working together — particularly relevant for the company as they choreograph as a collective — and also works with the idea of a few members of a group having more influence at any given time.

The piece began with one dancer walking on stage and looking directly at the audience. Another dancer joined her and they hugged. Then one by one the others joined them, their group hug growing, until they were all connected and moving as one. One dancer’s head would be coordinated with the arms of two others, emphasizing their collectivity and ability to work together as one being.  

Moving through a few phases and sequences of one dancer starting a wave of movement that was passed to the others in a sort of domino effect, the energy moved from one to the other and they reacted to each other’s movements. The intricate formations and split second coordination required for the choreography are impressive, and it was awe inspiring to watch. Near the end of the piece, the themes seemed to be repeating and searching for a logical conclusion.

In the end, they peeled the reflective covering off of the stage, piling it at the back to create an interesting sculpture. The ending didn’t seem fitting, but it didn’t matter much — the show was impressive nonetheless.

Dogfight – Semper Fi Collective and Renegade Arts Company

March 16–19; Pacific Theatre

The US Marines have a sick tradition called a Dogfight. Each marine puts some money into the pot, and they each try to find the ugliest girl they can and bring her to a party. The marine with the ugliest date wins the pot of money. Based on the 1991 film starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, the musical is full of catchy tunes and emotional moments.

Eddie Birdlace and his friends Bernstein and Boland (known as the three bees) are in San Francisco for a couple of days before they ship out to Vietnam, and they are preparing for a Dogfight. Bernstein meets Rose working at her family’s diner. He decides she will do for his entry. The only problem is that soon after inviting her to the party, he begins to feel bad about it and he starts to like her. Boland’s entry is a prostitute, Marcy, who he arranges to split the prize money with if he wins. Marcy tells Rose about the contest, and she punches Birdlace before fleeing the party.

Birdlace’s emotional dilemma drives the plot, and with the effective choreography and staging in the very small Pacific Theatre space, it was enjoyable to watch their love story unfold. Rose, played by SFU theatre student Amanda Sum, has a beautiful voice and her character is an aspiring musician and avid music fan telling Birdlace (Stuart Barkley) all about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. They share a hilarious dinner date scene where Rose inserts as many swear words as she can into her order to make a point about how much Birdlace swears.

My only complaints about the production are that it was sometimes hard to hear the actors with the music being so loud right beside them onstage, and ideally the show could have used a larger stage to maximize the choreography and provide a bit more breathing room for the scenes. Other than that this was an enjoyable production with a talented cast.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation touring to Vancouver April 7–9

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet will bring their highly anticipated Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation to Vancouver this April. This original ballet, commissioned by RWB Artistic Director André Lewis, attempts to represent the recent Truth and Reconciliation Report through a human story and follows two main characters: Annie, a young First Nations women from the city, and Gordon, a trickster, a supernatural being, who appears to be a homeless man. This show is being hailed by the CBC as perhaps one of the most important shows in the RWB’s history, and I expect it will be a powerful show that tells an important message in a unique way.

Director Chelsea Haberlin talks Dead Metaphor at the Firehall Arts Centre April 2–23

George F. Walker’s play, Dead Metaphor, follows the story of Dean, a young ex-sniper who has recently returned to Canada from Afghanistan and is struggling to find work. Complicating things further are his aging parents and a pregnant ex-wife. Dean ends up working as an assistant to a politician. As Haberlin explained to The Peak, the show is rooted in three dimensional characters and is very grounded. There is also a lot of humour despite the dark themes. With themes such as the struggle to find work, how to cope with aging family members, and the effect of war on the mind, the story is relatable in many ways and hypothesizes what would happen to a war veteran returning home to these circumstances. A script from a respected playwright produced by a talented cast makes Dead Metaphor a show not to be missed.