It feels like a milestone has been reached; an arrival or an achievement, of some significance. Here is a programme that just happens to comprise works by three women choreographers and put together, seemingly, with no deliberate intent or fanfare. It doesn’t appear to be a programme specifically commissioned to showcase women choreographers and – so far as I can see – nothing in the publicity for this event emphasised the all-women strapline. Welcome Ballet British Columbia. Welcome Canada. Thanks for showing us how it should be done.

Artists of Ballet BC in Molnar's <i>16+ a Room</i> © Michael Slobodian
Artists of Ballet BC in Molnar's 16+ a Room
© Michael Slobodian

Look around and there are plenty of women making great work. Ballet BC didn’t have to look too far for two of them. Emily Molnar – author of the first work, with the enigmatic, “does what it says on the tin”, title of 16 + a room – has been the company’s artistic director since 2009; and Crystal Pite is a former Ballet BC dancer who made her choreographic debut with the company, back in 1990 (just four years’ after Ballet BC started). She is in such demand nowadays that her alma mater is having to buy-in a second-hand piece, Solo Echo having been made for Nederlands Dans Theater, back in 2012. 

The final work was Bill, originally made on the Batsheva Dance Company, by Sharon Eyal, in association with her regular choreographic partner, the musician and multimedia designer, Gai Behar (OK! So, there may have been a bit of Y chromosome involved in the choreography but women still ruled this programme)!

The first surprise for the uninitiated is that, just as with William Forsythe’s much-missed Ballett Frankfurt (a company with which Molnar and Pite were also much associated), it is a company of classically-trained dancers who don’t dance the classics (or, indeed anything remotely resembling classical ballet). They are eighteen outstanding dancers (including four apprentices) who mix sophisticated and fluid movement with notable strength. I don’t know what the men do in any spare time that they may have but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they are lumberjack reservists. I don’t recall ever seeing such broad shoulders, bulging biceps and general muscularity in a ballet ensemble.

Artists of Ballet BC in Eyal and Behar's <i>Bill</i> © Chris Randle
Artists of Ballet BC in Eyal and Behar's Bill
© Chris Randle
16 + a room

is as abstract as non-narrative dance can get. It is an exercise in the potential for the movement and transition of 16 dancers in a “room” with largely dark and drab costumes, one assumes so as not to distract the audience’s attention from the quality of movement. Despite the title, the work is performed only by 13 permanent members of the company. One supposes that it is a work that could be performed by any double-digit number of dancers. The only clue to a theme, as such, comes in an associated quote from Virginia Woolf about the random patterns people make in their everyday movements, and the carrying of signs that proclaim “This is a beginning” and other clues to the state of play; although the vagaries of fate still validate the reappearance of the signpost for the beginning, even at the end, as the curtain falls. The women wear pointe shoes and transparent tops, which seem unnecessarily sheer; the dancing is absorbing for several minutes, especially in the naturalist, organic way in which the ensemble often moves together (in a similar spectacle to that which Pite often achieves), but it runs out of anything new to say before the end although the end itself is rather haunting; the electronic music (by Dirk Haubrich) is (one would imagine, deliberately) unmemorable and – at times – too loud. 

Pite’s Solo Echo seems to be the polar opposite to Molnar’s opener, in the sense that where the latter’s work has an abstract randomness, Pite’s choreography seems to imbue every movement with meaning. It was inspired by Mark Strand’s poem, Lines for Winter, given visual impact by falling “snow” and performed with palpable sentiment by just seven dancers. It doesn’t seem as if Pite ever falls from the A+ standard in her choreographic achievement because this is another intensely, striking and arresting work, beautifully danced to movements from two recorded Brahms Cello Sonatas (played by Yo-Yo Ma) with impactful costume designs by Pite herself (working with Joke Visser) and building to another memorable conclusion.

Artists of Ballet BC in Pite's <i>Solo Echo</i> © Sharen Bradford
Artists of Ballet BC in Pite's Solo Echo
© Sharen Bradford

This high standard continued into the concluding work, Bill, by Eyal and Behar, who were also responsible for cling-film-tight, second-skin costume designs. Musically, there was suddenly something we could equate with rhythm in Ori Lichtik’s bespoke soundtrack, which builds from individual dancers and small groups into the full ensemble of 18, the apprentices getting their chance to join the party. To their credit and that of the company, it was impossible to identify any difference in this truly democratic dance, which seemed a fitting conclusion to this excellent company’s opening salvo on their first UK tour. They move on through Brighton, Newcastle, Birmingham, Salford and Bradford during the rest of March. Catch them, if you can!