Emily Molnar's Smile, Ballet BC & The Ghost of Jones HenrySaturday, April 17, 2010
Below you will find my amateur musings and reflections on Ballet BC’s Re/Naissance inaugural 2010 season with Emily Molnar officially at its helm. I attended a matinee performance this afternoon with my two granddaughters. It was the Vancouver premieres of three works by choreographers William Forsythe, Itzik Galilli and Crystal Pite.
I am very glad I am not a dance critic. If that were the case I would have to point out that the first half of the first program, William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, did not affect me one way or another. It actually bored me. I looked up the work’s premiere’s dated, May 26, 1992 and came up with the purely unprofessional opinion that this is a work in which time has passed it by.
But then the second part of Forsythe’s piece had that Ballet BC paragon of the classic ballerina, Makaila Wallace (ever so slightly modified, for the better and contemporary, by incredibly shapely thighs and a considerable, not quite so compact dancer’s breast) dancing a pas de deux in skirts with Donald Sales (below, centre, whose head shape would have immediately fascinated 19th Century phrenologists) and I immediately forgave Forsythe for his lapse in holding my interest. This segment was wonderful. It had both my granddaughters, Lauren (7) and Rebecca (12) laughing. Sales, who briefly left Ballet BC a couple of years ago, is back with gusto. He is carrying the ghost (see somewhere below for an explanation) of that most manly Edmond Kilpatrick. Incredibly Rebecca read the program and asked me, “Can this be true? It says here that the costumes were designed by William Forsythe and Gianni Versace.” She was impressed.
I had to point out that Emily Molnar, the new and permanent artistic director of Ballet BC has not only talent in spades but she has contacts (her many friends around the world) to whom she can call in favours. To be able to mount any Forsythe production will cost most dance companies a fee upwards of $100,000 plus first-class accommodation to a representative of the choreographer during the rehearsals period. I suspect that Molnar’s special relationship with Forsythe (she danced for his Ballet Frankfurt for some years) enabled her to have those fees waved.
Again as I am no dance critic I can bring up the name John Alleyne, seen below with Crystal Pite and Todd Woffinden, and state here my purely unprofessional opinion that the man arrived at Ballet BC when little grannies went to Ballet BC shows clamoring for 19th Century classics of the stale kind. That included one number that I will never forget, it was May-pole dance! Alleyne gently pulled Ballet BC into the 20th century. It was under John Alleyne’s tutorship that I saw my first of several William Forsythe productions including one that featured artist Tiko Kerr painting while the dancers danced. I state here that a better name, and a more realistic name, for the company would be Modern Ballet BC. That's what it is.
Not being an expert dance critic, I can only venture to guess that big productions like Carmina Burana and Carmen (using expensive and big orchestras and in the case of Carmina Burana even a choir) broke the dance bank. But the other side of the coin is that these productions helped to liven up the almost nonexistent crossover between those who attend dance and those who go to symphony music. And we must not forget that such Alleyn productions as Boy Wonder and The Faerie Queen featured the work of local composers and musicians in work that was definitely in the avant garde.
For me Ballet BC is a study in progression. It is a progression of tradition that began “there” and is now “here” with Emily Molnar pushing BC's premier dance company into the future. We have a short memory in Vancouver. How many can remember ( I can never forget) of Molnar’s first appearance as a dancer in the company when Vancouver Sun critics were afraid to point out that Molnar was an unballetic 6ft tall girl with a body in proportion to that size? It may have been John Alleyne’s The Goldberg Variations where Molnar appeared in an extremely visible red dress. I had only eyes for the girl in the red dress.
It took guts for John Alleyne to lure Molnar from Ballet Frankfurt and bring her to Vancouver to help him transform the company. It had been only a year or two before when Alleyne had let go of one of the most intensely individualistic dancers,
Lauri Stallings, I have ever seen in the years that I have watched Ballet BC. Stallings, of late, received a neat review from the NY Times' dance critic Alastair Macaulay for a work she choreographed for the NY City Ballet. It would seem that Alleyne had a sudden change of heart, and while he previously believed in a totally hermetic and uniform ballet company, he now saw diversity and individuality as good. Emily Molnar was his first experiment.
While Alleyne’s public relations (in spite of having one of the most engaging and pleasant radio voices) may have been rough at times and his temper, if I am to believe my unnamed sources, short, Molnar is all the opposite. This bodes well for Ballet BC.
In yesterday’s matinee she told the audience in a short pre performance speech that she would be out in the lobby during the two intervals to greet us. “Without you, she said, “ we would be nothing.”
And there she was with a gracious smile telling my granddaughters how big they had become.
It was at that first intermission that I ran into Jones Henry (below, centre). “Why aren’t you dancing today?” I asked him. “Because, I am no longer part of the company. I will be dancing in Toronto.” Not missing any of Molnar’s social skills he greeted my granddaughters with a warm smile and spoke to Miriam (my Rebecca’s billet from Quebec) in French. Miriam, 13, had never attended ballet or dance before. I am sure that after Henry’s little conversation (and one, also in French with Ballet BC's Rehearsal Director, Sylvain Senez, Molnar’s greeting and the viewing of the show from our second row centre vantage point, that she will be a new enthusiast of dance.
It was Jones Henry who made me suddenly realize that Ballet BC is a tradition of ghosts. Who can forget that Polish ghost, Miroslav Zydowicz, bellow right painting artist Tiko Kerr, in several pas de deux with that other ghost (a classical ballerina) Andrea Hodge? I will never forget Lauri Stallings twirling around her lips glued to Zydowicz’s in Serge Bennathan's In and Around Kozla Street (Warsaw).
Equally, Jones Henry, whom I first met in my photo studio on Robson Street, has impressed me not only with his strong dance performances but with his equally charming re-interpretations of ball room dancing in Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs. Thanks to Jones Henry, to others like Edmond Kilpatrick and Simone Orlando and many more that remain in my memory I now know that the Queen Elizabeth’s stage is full of these ghosts. It was, Crystal Pite, Emily Molnar’s friend, colleague and choreographer of one of the matinee’s works (Short Works: 24) who said it best a few years ago when both she and Molnar posed for me in my studio. Pite said:
“The ephemeral of dance exists only in the present movement. We are left with traces of movements that are gone as they are being created. As we carve space with our bodies they leave a ghost, the trail which affects our future moves and informs the observer of our past moves.”
I then understood that those past moves are much like the contrails that high-flying jets leave in the sky. Ballet BC would not be the company it is, or promises to be, without Jones Henry and the others I have mentioned above and not mentioned - and yes, too, John Alleyne.
There is another friend and mentor of Molnar’s that has been, is, and will be a strong influence on the progress of the company. This is Arts Umbrella’s dance program head, Artemis Gordon (seen here with Emily Molnar and dancer Alex Burton). Gordon taught Molnar to dance many years ago. Gordon hired Molnar as an artist-in-residence on Granville Island where Molnar has inspired many to persist with Gordon’s grueling program and to continue and make dance a profession and passion of choice.
I must make a small mention here that while participating at the Arts Umbrella dance program, for four years, my granddaughter Rebecca liked to watch Molnar direct the older dancers. She often used the music of Philip Glass. Weeks ago Rebecca would not miss and insisted I take her to Glass’ solo piano performance at the Chan. Molnar is that kind of an influence, as is Gordon.
Gordon’s dance program is a feeder of talent to Ballet BC. Some like Acacia Schachte, not only did shine at Ballet BC, but went to shine abroad in New York.
Gordon’s dance program has given Ballet BC Alexis Fletcher, Connor Gnam, Allyson Fretz and Alex Parret.
While Makaila Wallace carries the classical ballerina ghost of Andrea Hodge in her, I can see that Alexis Fletcher is hard on her heels as a future Makaila Wallace ghost carrier. In her solo performance to the music of Eric Satie in Itzak Galili’s Things I Told Nobody, I was transfixed. She was superb, particularly because her body with incredibly strong thighs tears down the concept of the swan-like ballerina to the different reality of our 21st century. The swan needed the man to carry her and lift her. Alexis Fletcher is in no need of help.
Fletcher, left, is not the only one who shines with that peculiar individuality that seems to be a major asset of those who graduate from Gordon’s dance program. I see this individuality in Connnor Gnam and Alyson Fretz (someday she will be the carrier of Alexis Fletcher’s ghost) seen below here with Alex Parrett top left and with Arts Umbrella dancer Caroline Kirkpatrick on the right, and perhaps in Alex Parrett when she is given meatier roles.
Only an Emily Molnar would give a chance to a dancer who has yet to graduate from Arts Umbrella. This is Alex Burton who in my purely amateur opinion, will someday rise to not only carry Connor Gnam’s ghost but to be one of the best male dancers you will ever see. As an apprentice member of Ballet BC Molnar put him into the program and backstage Burton told me of the excitement he had obtained from this opportunity. When I was driving the girls home Rebecca said with much excitement, "How Alex Burton has grown! And his voice is much deeper. I guess I knew him before his voice broke."
Re/Naissance ended with Crystal Pite’s Short Works: 24. As per usual, Pite showed not only the brilliance of another Ballet Frankfurt/ William Forsythe alumnus but that rare talent she has of not taking herself as seriously as some other choreographers do and gave us lots of humor. It was my Rebecca who also noticed a new and much welcome influence in her choreography. This was the influence of Native Canadian dance.
All four of us had a perfectly entertaining evening and I see that Molnar may have only one problem in hand if she is to fill the seats of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Both my granddaughters and I think that dancers are heroes. We notice their new haircuts or the changes in their bodies. Me marvel at how they move and even in how they breathe. In a world of celebrity worship, it is time that we in Vancouver celebrate the men and women of dance. It is time that the men and women of Ballet BC be given their due.
In future performances of Ballet BC I will note the presence of ghosty streaks and I will think, thank you Jones Henry for having helped make my life a more interesting one. Seen here, left, in another ghostly streak from the past is Jean Orr in the centre, Emily Molnar, Simone Orlando, below centre and Andrea Hodge in top right.
After today's matinee, Rebecca (and her friend from Quebec), Lauren and I took advantage of one of Ballet BC's standing traditions of making themselves available to fans, backstage after each show. We casually entered and talked to our heroes. Connor Gnam posed with my delighted (but slightly shy granddaughters).
"Do you want me to put on a shirt?" he asked us. It was Artemis Gordon of Arts Umbrella who once told me that ballet features beautiful young men and women with perfect bodies who with grace show it off to the delight of the audience. And Gordon added, "And you should not be ashamed to delight in just that."
I was delighted to find out that Ballet BC is going to somehow help sponsor or work with Dances for a Small Stage. This is an excellent idea as Dances for a Small Stage is a Vancouver success story (rare in dance!). But I would gently suggest that a possible route to getting more people to occupy Ballet BC productions at the Queen Elizabeth is to get more children to attend. They are the future of Ballet BC. Because Dances for a Small Stage happen in a cabaret setting (with booze) minors are unable to enjoy them. If Ballet BC would offer up its Scotia Bank Dance Centre for at least one of the nights (or a Satuday afternoon) of Dances for a Small Stage, children would be able to attend.