Ballet British Columbia, the Vancouver-based modern ballet company founded in 1986, hasn’t visited London before. The first thing that struck you as they took to the Sadler’s Wells stage was the dancers’ ability. This triple bill of work from female choreographers was an excellent showcase for their fierce athletic attack, marvellous precision and ability to utilise stillness. These American and Canadian dancers have been honed into an enviably skilled ensemble.
The works themselves were more variable in their delights. The opening 16+ a room, created by Ballet BC’s artistic director Emily Molnar, started promisingly. The premise was, what patterns would emerge if you put 16 people in a room and started tipping it? The stage didn’t actually move (and for reasons unexplained we had only 13 dancers), but a flurry of strong shapes, tilting, juddering, bunny hops and sliding across the floor gave the piece a propulsive energy, even as the industrial noise-cum-electronica soundtrack sapped the will to live (by the end a hammer-on-anvil-like crashing so loud the seats shook made it feel as though we were under siege). The intensity edged upwards as darting spotlights strafed the stage, and explosions of movement were smartly juxtaposed with moments of calmness. But you did really wonder where the idea was going, and dancers wandering on with signs pronouncing “This is a beginning” and “This is not the end” in no way answered that question.
Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo, originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater, was the undoubted highlight of the evening. Built around two Brahms sonatas and the poem Lines for Winter by Mark Strand, it started with a flurry of snow (reminiscent of her Flight Pattern finale) and a series of yearning solos and powerful, inventive duets. The demanding intricacy of Pite’s choreography never overpowered the lyricism she imbued into her movements, and the second part of the piece packed real emotional punch. The cast of seven cohered as a mature, mutually supportive, compassionate whole: dancers breaking off, falling to the ground, were helped up, absorbed back, like mercury droplets. Loss was shouldered by the group with grace; Solo Echo left you with a final image – of one dancer left prone on stage – of aching peacefulness.
Bill was a dramatic gearshift. Sharon Eyal’s piece for Batsheva Dance Company went for quirky with a series of solos by dancers in skintight flesh-toned bodysuits – ricocheting around the stage with exaggeratedly cartoonish, jitteringly strange movements, like contemporary dance Minions, or malfunctioning androids. As the 18-strong company converged to create bouncing patterns of repetition and the music veered from cacophonous clatter to trance-house rhythms, a more undulating, oddly mesmeric style started to power them. Again, though, an initially intriguing idea rather ran out of oomph by the end.