Legends of the 20th Century

Dates 12 – 14 April 2007 Venue Queen Elizabeth Theatre Reviewer John Jane

The dancers of Ballet BC had a wonderful opportunity to showcase their technical abilities and innate talent by performing signature ballets by some of last century’s legendary choreographers. The programme opened with Inspiration, an interesting pas de deux from Slovakian choreographer Mario Radokovsky who created it as a tribute to his own inspiration, Anik Bissonette of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.

A male dancer (Edmond Kilpatrick) moves slowly and deliberately around a piano at centre stage; there is confusion in his languid movements. His female partner (Simone Orlando) appears from seemingly nowhere, but her movements are more sanguine. As the two dance together to a Mozart piano concerto, apprehension miraculously gives way to vigour and passion.

By just presenting Russian-American choreographer, George Balanchine's Allegro Brillante, it is already a large feather in Ballet BC’s cap. Balanchine's works are legally protected and only those companies who satisfy stringent artistic standards set by the George Balanchine Trust are allowed to perform them.

Dancing to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.2, principal couple, Fei Guo and Shannon Smith rise to Allegro's considerable technical challenges. Ms Guo is virtually weightless as she glides and pirouettes around the stage and Smith provides the athletic finesse that the part demands. Also thoroughly beguiling are the supporting cast of corps dancers that ubiquitously sweep across the stage, not in restrained unison but in unbound freedom.

Appalachian Spring was written in 1944 by American composer Aaron Copland for Martha Graham’s dance company; it has since become one of her signature choreographies. In the Ballet BC publication it is subtitled “Ballet for Martha” – the original title – later changed at the behest of Graham herself. This piece differs from others in the “Legends” programme in that it conveys linear story-telling. Copeland’s plain harmonic score, such as the folksy Simple Gifts (those with a keen ear would identify it as “Lord of the Dance”), and Graham’s dance vocabulary and frontier style costumes combine to evoke strong images of a pioneer celebration of spring in rural America.

American dancer Tara Lee, as the frontier bride, offers a first-class performance; she is complemented by athletic dancer Léon Feizo-Gas. Setting-off this couple, Donald Soles and Alexis Fletcher turned in spirited performances as the Revivalist and the Pioneering Woman.

After an unannounced and unexplained 20-minute second intermission, presumably to carry out set and costume changes, Baker's Dozen completed the programme. Twyla Tharp’s blithesome work expands on social dance forms; particularly in the mid section tango movements set to the pleasingly melodic, ragtime jazz of Willie (the Lion) Smith and meritoriously played live by Terence Dawson.

Choreographed for six pairs and occasional threesomes; dance movements require frequent changes of partners. The humour and sheer fun expressed by the dancers was not lost on this knowledgeable audience.

Despite some annoying delays, Vancouver dance enthusiasts were able to witness some of last century’s finest dance in visually contrasting styles during the same evening. Bravo! Ballet BC.

© 2007 John Jane