If it seems like the Canadian company Ballet BC was just here, that is correct. After early May performances in Northridge, the company returns this weekend to a different SoCal theater and with a different program.

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ballet BC makes its debut at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, bringing a trio of ballets selected to showcase the company’s contemporary cred.

Founded in 1986, the Canadian company in recent years has made its mark commissioning contemporary works.  Since 2009, the company has brought more than 50 new works into its repertoire. The trio taking the stage this weekend are Bedroom Folk (2015) from Sharon Eyal and Gair Behar, The Statement (2016) from Crystal Pite, and Garden (2016) from company artistic director Medhi Warlerski.  All three originated at Europe’s Nederlands Dans Theater where current Walerski danced before becoming a freelance choreographer.

Walerski took time to speak by phone about Ballet BC’s upcoming debut at Segerstrom and how the three works were chosen to showcase the strength, versatility, and range of the company’s 20 dancers.

Bedroom Folk

Ballet BC in Bedroom Folk. Photo by Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC in Bedroom Folk. Photo by Michael Slobodian

Bedroom Folk was choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar who are very famous in Europe. Our audiences in Vancouver love it and are always asking to see it. Sharon is a real visionary and it’s thrilling, punchy. With its beautiful lighting, it is really intense and hypnotic,” Walerski offered.

In the Vancouver Arts Review, critic Prachi Kamble wrote:

“In Bedroom Folk choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar position their dancers closely in two lines. A black curtain covers the bright red back wall to reveal just a third of it. The visual effect of this illusion is stunning. Coupled with the overhead spotlights, the backdrop cocoons the dancers in a velvety darkness while showcasing their every move with the red and black contrast. The movements themselves are derived from natural movements of the body – wobbling heads, shrugging shoulders, the mechanics of a sneeze. Eyal and Behar create dance out of everyday movements of the human body to the point where you can barely tell them apart from typical modern and contemporary dance movements.

“The dancers move together synchronously, matching each other’s every move, but every once in a while, a dancer breaks into solo choreography that compliments the movement of the group. Much of the movement encapsulates the beauty of freedom when it is bestowed upon the human body. There are hints of ballet here and even Irish dancing. There is great humour in this piece as the dancers mix conventional and recognisable dance forms with unusual and pedestrian movements.

“The music begins as a tribal slash techno rhythmic arrangement that builds in momentum and ecstasy. There are of course, many ways in which to interpret this dance, and all interpretations would be right. I concluded that the piece was about sexuality and intimacy, and how these are both influenced and hindered by the expectations of humans as a collective. We see glimpses of pleasure and then of deadly shame, the latter an unforgettable image as the brilliant Livona Ellis is suspended in the air by another dancer’s hands around her neck.”

Kamble concludes: “Bedroom Folk is an energetic and pulsing piece which shocks and soothes in equal measure.”

The Statement

Ballet BC in The Statement.  Photo © Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC in The Statement.  Photo © Michael Slobodian

Not only is Crystal Pite among the best known and most respected Canadian choreographers, she’s based in Vancouver which makes her a neighbor.  Walerski unabashedly describes Pite’s The Statement “as a modern day masterpiece.”

“During our European tour, it was one everyone talked about,” he recalled. “It’s a hybrid of dance and theater that explores corporate power struggle around the boardroom table. It’s about current events.  It also shows the versatility of the company and the dancers.”

In her 2021 LA Dance Chronicle review, Tam Warner agreed with that assessment, admitting Pite’s The Statement left her at a loss for words

“Words fail to give due justice to the brilliance of choreographer Crystal Pite’s The Statement.  With her “wildly inventive choreographic style” we are pulled into the twilight zone of a boardroom meeting and its socio/political fallout. A prerecorded script by Canadian playwright Jonathan Young sweeps us into this murky underworld. The characters have been tasked with fueling a conflict in a distant country.  This seems a prescient topic given the days old invasion of Ukraine and the disaster this portends. As tensions rise finger pointing and blame lead to the scapegoat. Each dancer, dressed in business attire uses their body in ways both extreme and subtle to “speak” the dialogue. Slithering and undulating through the exacting choreography they move with miraculous ease and command. As the tension mounts at the ponderous conference table, the movement, the lighting, the pulsating soundscape and the fast moving dialogue converge as a massive monolithic cylinder descends from the flies and presses downward onto ‘the one’ who must make a ‘Statement.’”

Warner closed the review observing that “on the final blackout, the audience leapt to its feet, giving the performers a well deserved standing ovation.”

The Garden

Ballet BC Dancers Zenon Zubyk, Rae Srivastava, Sarah Pippin in Garden Photo by Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC Dancers Zenon Zubyk, Rae Srivastava, Sarah Pippin in Garden. Photo by Michael Slobodian

While Walerski created the third work, Garden (2016) for Nederlands Dans Theatre, it holds a special place as one of the works that introduced him to Ballet BC.

Set to Saint-Saëns’s “Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 14. Garden opens on a solitary woman whose solo yields the stage to a series of duets that shifts back to the solo woman, then to ten dancers.

In a 2021 review for Critical Dance, Sheenagh Pietrobruno wrote: “With beauty and finesse, the choreography highlights the notes of the piano…(The) ten dancers dynamize the strings of the music through invigorating and graceful sets of whirling pas de deux, trios, quartets and group formations. A refined labyrinth of movement is carved in space. Such recurring classical representations give way to contemporary vernacular. Ballet lines, holds and patterns are repeatedly and gently reshaped through the angularity of bent knees and elbows and flexed feet as well as softly undulating backs, arms and hands. Resonating within this fluid and flowing juxtaposition is movement as essence.”

Ballet BC - Photo by Marcus Eriksson

Ballet BC – Photo by Marcus Eriksson

Walerski spoke about how his experiences working with Ballet BC fueled his decision to leave his Europe-based career as a freelance choreographer and move to Canada.

“Starting in 2011, I had set several works on Ballet BC as a guest choreographer.  I loved the relationship with the dancers, their creativity and their versatility.  I had also developed a close relationship with the team at Ballet BC,” he recounted, “And it was a point in my career that was right for the move.”

Although appointed artistic director in January 2020, his scheduled start in spring 2020 fell victim to Canadian travel restrictions imposed with the onset of Covid.

“So I began my career as artistic director on zoom from Europe.  I could not arrive until mid-summer 2020.  I arrived at a time everything was uncertain and live performance was not happening,” Walerski described how the company improvised with digital events until April 2021 when Ballet BC finally was able to have its first live performance.  That performance included Garden.

Talking to Stir/Vancouver about why he chose Garden for that resumption of live performance, Walerski told writer Janet Smith:

“The piece marked a transition in my career when I stopped being a full-time dancer and there was a lot happening in my life.  I wanted to connect to, I would say, the I wanted to connect to, I would say, the nectar of the movement. I wanted to come back to something more pure and more profound, and not be guided by a story. But it was quite challenging, because it was diving into the unknown and also embracing the past of my career.”

Medhi Walerski. Photo courtesy of Ballet BC

Medhi Walerski. Photo courtesy of Ballet BC

Since that challenging 2020 start as artistic director, Walerski has guided the company to a European tour, an ongoing SoCal residency at the Soraya heater, and this debut at Segerstrom before performances in Texas.

During that lapse between its Soraya performances a month ago and this weekend’s show at Segerstrom, the company enjoyed quite a homecoming.  The company marked the grand opening of its newly remodeled 18,000 square foot studio/performing space on Vancouver’s Granville Island.  The effort involved a substantial, climate sensitive rebuilding of an existing building in what is a cultural hub in middle of the city.

Just before boarding the plane to return for the Segerstrom performances, the company hosted three days of events and dancing to mark that opening. The rebuilt facility boasts four studios, a viewing gallery, green room, and event space, as well as administrative and dancer health rooms.  The rebuilding was aided by $660,837 the Canadian government provided to fund the reconstruction. True, it was Canadian dollars but still support any U.S. company would covet.

Ballet BC at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sat., June 3, 7:30 pm, $29-$99. https://www.scfta.org/shows-events

For more information about Ballet BC, please visit their website.

Written by Ann Haskins for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured Image: Ballet BC in Bedroom Folk – Photo by Michael Slobodian