The Danse Danse series always brings some of the most exciting shows of the year to Montreal’s Place des Arts. And the first presentation of 2015 is a perfect example of this, with Ballet BC taking the Theatre Maisonneuve by storm with an exciting contemporary triple bill. This past Thursday the Vancouver-based company performed three very different, but equally riveting, pieces for three whooping standing ovations.

Ballet BC in Godani's <i>A.U.R.A.</i> © Michael Slobodian
Ballet BC in Godani's A.U.R.A.
© Michael Slobodian

First ( a test as to whether the audience is awake and ready?), a heart-pumping piece by Italian choreographer Jacopo Godani. A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art) is a sci-fi, tribal, birdlike dance, if that makes any sense. Godani often brings quick tempo pieces together with choreography that exposes the body in bold and interesting shapes, and this is no exception. Exagerated lines are met with curves, like the wings of birds, and the dancers never stop for a breath. Granted, the audience doesn’t either! The sheer strength of Ballet BC’s dancers is highlighted here where in any given second they kick out a grand battement, pull a double turn and somehow end up entwined in the empty space created by their partner’s body, then are suddenly off again. Immediately the togetherness of Ballet BC is striking. No one misses a beat, not even by a millisecond. The effect when they dance as a group is incredibly stimulating, even if all they’re doing is a simple port de bras in a cannon.

Second is Walking Mad, by internationally acclaimed Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. A total detour from A.U.R.A., Walking Mad is a much more theatrical piece with a large mobile wall at its center. Touching on the ever-popular theme of the battle of the sexes, men and women connect and misconnect in this touching piece. The wall can be isolating, trapping one dancer in a dark corner to bang on the wall in vain, but it can bring company too, as its many doors fly open and close, letting through friends or companions, if only for a brief moment.

Alexis Fletcher in Inger's <i>Walking Mad</i> © Michael Slobodian
Alexis Fletcher in Inger's Walking Mad
© Michael Slobodian
Not only is the use of the wall innovative, but the choreography too is full of fresh movement. Everything the Ballet BC dancers do just flows naturally, and combined with the inventive portés and movements of Inger's imagination, Walking Mad is absolutely stunning. Costumes changes bring color to the piece, which becomes bright or dull in sync with the waves of emotion at play. In some moments we’re laughing; there are party hats and slapstick style hip thrusting. In other moments our heart breaks, like when the last man drops off behind the wall, disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Third and last is Petite Cérémonie, created for and with Ballet BC by French choreographer Mehdi Walerski. Adding even more layers of theatre and comedy to the base of dance, Petite Cérémonie explores the differences between men and women as well as the madness of living in confinement. Though the piece doesn’t have as much grip as the first two, it definitely shows off the dancers, who excel in the details, in fluidity, and in that extra second of lift and extension that turns any movement from beautiful to breathtaking. They have a spark and natural way about their dancing, all of them, that blew me away.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve seen too many choreographies to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but it was the introduction to Petite Cérémonie, done completely without music, that I found the most interesting. In a line taking the whole length of the stage or in a tight little group, the dancers kept the beat with tiny steps, left, right, left, right.

Ballet BC in Walerski's <i>Petite Cérémonie</i> © Michael Slobodian
Ballet BC in Walerski's Petite Cérémonie
© Michael Slobodian
Maybe they would stray from the confinement of that rhythm but they always had to come back to it, and to their group...one, two, one, two. It reminded me of rehearsal processes, of how the repetitiveness and the specificity each movement takes on when you go over it too many times. I think we can all relate to this in some way and it’s fun to be able to make fun of ourselves.

I’m ashamed and humbled in saying that I wasn’t expecting Ballet BC to be this good. Since Emily Molnar was appointed artistic director in 2009, the company's reputation is growing, and it is today thought of as one of the top contemporary ballet companies around. After seeing them, I agree. I was on my feet more than once during this fantastic triple bill and I am completely refreshed and inspired by this world-class Canadian company.