A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Ballet BC, Seriously Funny (Donald Sales) & Funny But Serious (Simone Orlando)
Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Saturday night my granddaughters and I went to the Vancouver Dance Centre for a performance of Ballet BC's Surfacing in collaboration with the Arts Umbrella Graduate Program. It was sold out so we returned home in the rain. The silence and the disappointment in the car were palpable. Sylvain Senez, the rehearsal director, with a big smile on his face, had told me, “Why don’t you come to the 2pm matinee on Sunday?”

I was not able to arrange to bring the disappointed granddaughters but I did manage to get a ticket and I even sat where I like to sit best, centre, front seat with my feet firmly planted on the dance floor! A wonderful springy floor for which the now Florentine yoga master Cornelius Fischer-Credo helped design.

I sat next to a long-time dance enthusiast and dancer, Betty Kovacs whom I had not seen since I last photographed her around 1980. Part of her support of the dance community involves hosting in her house Ballet BC dancers who come from abroad. They stay with Kovacs until they find their bearings. She is also President of the Vancouver Ballet Society.

While I am sure that many of the best of Vancouver’s choreographers would have attended the opening on Friday evening and the sold out performance on Saturday night I did spot Alison Denham, Judith Garay and Jennifer Mascall. They were there for the same reason I was, to see what Ballet BC’s interim Artistic Director, Emily Molnar (right) had up her sleeve.

To begin with most in the dance community in Vancouver know that Artemis Gordon’s Arts Umbrella dance program provides its students with the dream of someday, perhaps, graduating to the ranks of Ballet BC and other dance companies of renown. There were 15 Arts Umbrella dancers mingling, almost seamlessly with their Ballet BC professionals. The program did not mention that four in the ranks of Ballet BC are graduates from Gordon’s program. They were Connor Gnam (above, left), Alex Parrett, Alyson Fretz and Alexis Fletcher.

The afternoon program consisted of four works by four different and local choreographers, Joe Laughlin, Simone Orlando (a Ballet BC choreographer and dancer), Donald Sales (a Ballet BC choreographer and dancer) and Rob Kitsos.

On Wings, Joe Laughlin fed my almost potato chip craving for some classical en pointe walking which I sorely miss when I watch modern dance. And, of course, some Alexander Scriabin. The world needs more Alexander Scriabin. There is a lot to be said for modern dance, which I really love, but sometimes I need to experience the grace of those classically beautiful moves that are ballet and the reason why ballet, be it classical or modern, will always have a niche in contemporary dance. I am glad that Molnar had this on the program. It was my wife Rosemary who said to me when Molnar was named the interim artistic director, “Emily is going to eliminate all that classical ballet and give us only modern dance. She will fail if she does that.”

The last segment was Rob Kitsos’ Regression Line which featured very loud heavy metal/punk type music by Brooklyn’s Dub Trio. For me the saviour of the piece was the brutal performance (full of expression on her face she can change from point shoes, to pouts and sports shoes and fatigues with no problem) of the real star of Ballet BC (besides that classical ballerina Makaila Wallace) Alexis Fletcher, seen here on the left. Like her former Ballet BC dancer mate and fellow Arts Umbrella graduate, Acacia Schachte (who dances for New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet) she has a style that is all her own. She stands out. She is not your typical cookie cutter clone that graduates from so many other ballet and dance schools.

Since I am no dance critic I will gently suggest to Emily Molnar that she might want to plan in the future to bring in a couple of our best city choreographers who could progress with Kitsos’contemporary vision. Shay Kuebler (choreographer and dancer) and Amber Funk Barton (another Arts Umbrella alumnus) both have incorporated modern dance to hip hop and by fusing together the two, have come up with a dance form that is grueling, contemporary, and exciting. If Molnar is able to secure that needed funding, Jane Coop would have polished off that Scriabin sonata with aplomb and I know of a few musicians who could have adapted that Bach double violin concerto to two violins and a cello. Live music can make such an intimate dance program that much more intimate.

The two middle pieces were the ones that I really liked. I liked them because more and more I see so little humour in modern dance. In Simone Orlando’s Doppeling, John Sebastian Bach competes with Prince Valiant. It ruined my wish of seeing Arts Umbrella dancer Alexander Burton, see above, with Emily Molnar on the left and Artemis Gordon on the right), show me what he can do with so much passion. Orlando put Prince Valiant wigs on everybody, males and females and had me seriously trying to figure out who was whom and if I was supposed to laugh or not! I decided to be less serious and just enjoyed myself. It is so pleasantly surprising to see how much humour Orlando hides behind her serious face.

Donald Sales’ (seen in picture, right, with Simone Orlando and centre, composer Tobin Stokes whose score was used for John Alleyne's ballet A Streetcar Named Desire) Long Story Short gave me what I had come to see (besides, Alexis Fletcher, Connor Gnam and Alexander Burton) and this was the newest member of Ballet BC, Alyson Fretz. I had first seen here some five years ago telling my granddaughter Rebecca to not be distracted in a beginning ballet class. Alyson Fretz (seen below sitting with Alex Parrett standing behind her and with Arts Umbrella dancer who also helped my Rebecca pay attention, Caroline Kirkpatrick) was one of Andrea Hodge’s (ex Ballet BC dancer and dance instructor at Arts Umbrella) helpers. I have watched her grow from a little girl to the strong and muscular dancer of today (Alexis Fletcher, watch your back!). And this piece with lots of humor, lots of classy Donald Sales humor) also allowed me to observe Connor Gnam’s rare ability (one rare in so many ballet dancers) to express emotion not only with dance moves but with facial expression.

One very pleasant surprise for me was that other new Ballet BC dancer Gilbert Small, who is very black, very talented, very muscular and fun to watch.

When I was waiting for the performance to begin ( I had arrived early to make sure I could buy a ticket) I spotted that other Ballet Boy from Arts Umbrella, Jed Duifhuis. I asked him, “Am I going to enjoy this?” With a big smile (he is normally stone-faced) he answered, “We are having fun so you are going to have fun.”

First off there he was picking up prima ballerina Makaila Wallace and I wondered what it was like for the “student” to be on stage with such a star. Wonderful and fun, I am sure.


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