The good folks at Vancouver West Side Theatre Society have been bringing the Chutzpah! Festival to the city, every year since 2001. This year the festival began in February and is now coming to a giddy conclusion this weekend. Chutzpah! has brought to Vancouver, dance, theatre and musical talents from not only the global Jewish diasporas, but from general Canadian soil as well. Thursday saw the opening of an evening filled with beautiful ballet, creative choreography and soul soothing live music. Ballet Kelowna and Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music have joined forces to bring a moving evening titled Renaissance, to the cosy Norman and Annette Rothstein theatre at the Jewish Community Centre, on 41st street. The show will be staged for two more consecutive nights (5th and 6th May).
Renaissance begins with choreographer James Kudelka’s Byrd Music, a dance that eases the audience into the evening slowly and thoughtfully. The live Continuum orchestra plays from the back of the stage and provides the musical background for two dancers in black and white bodysuits, being meticulously controlled by two other dancers, like puppets on a string. This piece is the evening’s most challenging to absorb. It is abstract and the movements are limited and minimised- robotic even. The dancers seemed a little nervous and at many points their movements did not line up well with the orchestra’s beats. Those were perhaps opening night jitters, which you most likely will not get!
The ballet walks the audience through the intimate romance of a couple, as they get played by societal norms that are sometimes advantageous and at other times detrimental. Although the moves are smallest in this dance, they seemed to stump the dancers the most out of all the dances on opening night. Heather Thomson, the female dancer of this group, is en pointe for the majority of this piece, so although the dancing appears quiet, it must be extremely difficult in actuality.
An Interlude by Bryan Holt on the cello follows the opening dance and sweeps everyone off their feet. Holt nudges the audience to tears with his technical finesse shining bright under a single spotlight. This Interlude sets up the next piece almost perfectly as it ushers in a wave of sentimentality.
Split House Geometric transforms the well-lit stage from the opening piece into a soft, rainbow-coloured playground. The costumes in this dance are silky and feminine. John Alleyne’s choreography here is all about heightened emotions. The dancers’ faces hold yearning, grief and joy to the brim. The grand sweeps of their elegant arms and legs support the romanticism in their expressions. Heather Thomson and Valentin Chou first impress with acrobatic solos, then consolidate into a duo, after which Julie Pham performs a beautiful, feminine solo that is punctuated by regular sets of repetitive movements that mirror the function of a chorus in a song. All this is happening while a piano and a violin play Arvo Pärt’s very emotional Fratres. I personally loved this piece for the colours in its visuals and its exaggerated but genuine emotions that instantly touch the heart.
After an intermission, Folie à Cinq, turns the evening right around. We see the orchestra positioned to the right side of the stage, as all the dancers dressed in formal trousers and waistcoats, smile mischievously at the audience in a huddle. They dive into the most playful, contemporary choreography you have ever seen. Heather Myers infuses this ballet with humor and slapstick that is incredibly cute. This dance is guaranteed to make you smile. The dancers perform with such simplicity that they win over your heart. They keep in time with every beat of the live music in this piece because they are having so much relaxed fun here. This piece is more contemporary dance than ballet, and it gives the evening a healthy sense of variety. I wanted to give this ballet the equivalent of a hug. Whatever that might be.
The second Interlude belongs to Carol Lynn Fujino on violin. She performs a highly energetic piece that is incredibly stirring. She builds the anticipation of the evening that the climax of the final piece then looks to release.
Ballet Kelowna’s own Simone Orlando choreographs the concluding piece of the evening: Before and After. This dance is equal parts traditional ballet and equal parts contemporary innovation. Orlando uses the full set of dancers to create patterns and visual intrigue. Her vision is full of beauty and ambition. The energy of the ensemble takes your breath away. Orlando always has a few groups of dancers doing separate, tangential bits of choreography. This technique gives the piece great depth and texture but it unfortunately falters at many points, as not all dancers are in sync at every second, and when this happens, it creates considerable confusion for the eye. On the other hand, the colourful rust and turquoise costumes along with the creative use of soft lights, and Orlando’s carefully curated fresh movements, build up a great reserve of energy that is worthy of a concluding piece.
Renaissance is a charming ballet that has the advantage of being performed at a very intimate venue. The audience can see the expressions on the dancers’ faces, hear them breathe and register their feet landing out of jumps and pirouettes. The dancers pour their heart and soul out on stage and although they falter at times, it just adds to the genuine charm of the evening. Come and see this ballet for great out-of-the-box choreography, technically stunning live music and some very spirited and beautiful dancers.
Get your tickets here.