Posted in Arts, Top Arts

CENTRE STAGE: Ballet Kelowna teams up with Continuum Contemporary Music and Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits presents ReVoLt

Renaissance shows off Ballet Kelowna’s talented dancers; ReVoLt is a relentless piece about female oppression

Nicola Leahey shines in Compagnie Thor's ReVoLt.
Nicola Leahey shines in Compagnie Thor's ReVoLt.
Image Credits: Hichem Dahes

Renaissance – Ballet Kelowna

Chutzpah! PLUS

May 4–6, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre

Since becoming artistic director and CEO in 2014, former Ballet BC dancer Simone Orlando has led Ballet Kelowna to become a mature company presenting stunning contemporary choreography. Her dedication shows in the company’s production of Renaissance, presented in collaboration with Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music as part of the Chutzpah! Festival’s extended programming this year, Chutzpah! PLUS.

Musicians shared the stage with the dancers as they performed four pieces both new and old. James Kudelka’s Byrd Music, set to Rodney Sharman’s Pavane, Galliard and Variations, is a clever, symmetrical piece of choreography that features two dancers controlling the movements of two others as if they were dolls. Using every part of their bodies to manoeuvre the pair of inert dancers into different positions, this piece was performed with precision and wonderfully entertaining to watch.    

Another renowned choreographer followed with John Alleyne’s Split House Geometric set to Arvo Part’s piano and violin duo Fratres. The stark, repetitive music was paired with Alleyne’s sharp lines and geometric shapes, beautiful pas de deux sequences, and expansive solos.

The second half of the evening featured two new pieces of choreography set to two original compositions. Folie à Cinq by Heather Myers was accompanied by Folies d’Espagne by Michael Oesterle. The five dancers in this piece moved playfully around the stage with sharp, quirky hand gestures and eccentric group formations. Their unconventional movements elicited a few laughs from the audience, and the unique choreography, while lacking in elegance, was fresh and unique.

Orlando contributed the final piece of the evening, Before and After set to Jocelyn Morlock’s Night, Herself, which was inspired by Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. The rich greens, blues, and burgundies of the costumes intensified the fluid choreography that gained momentum as the dancers moved in sweeping formations, filling the stage.   

While in the background for most of the show, the musicians of Contemporary Continuum Music filled the theatre with their interpretations of these compositions from Renaissance masters and current composers. Cellist Bryan Holt and violinist Carol Lynn Fujino had their moments in the spotlight with solo interludes between the dance pieces. They were both mesmerizing as they demonstrated the kind of skill that can only come after a lifetime of dedication.   

I look forward to seeing Ballet Kelowna continue to grow, and I hope they are able to make more frequent visits to Vancouver.


ReVoLt – Compagnie Thor

May 5–7, Scotiabank Dance Centre

This one-woman show is a barrage of hair-flinging desperation, and Australian dancer Nicola Leahey gave it her all both physically and emotionally. Belgian choreographer and artistic director of Compagnie Thor, Thierry Smits, has worked with her before, and Leahy approached him about the possibility of creating a show about female oppression. The result is a piece of relentless choreography that is a metaphor for female struggle and the necessity to fight back and revolt against existing power structures.

Wearing a short camouflage-print tunic, Leahey begins the show in a tormented state, being pulled and jerked in every direction by an unseen force and fighting for survival and escape. In a square of light she performs small stilted movements to a dissonant score of pops and static. Every so often the stage went black and the lights came up to reveal her in a new position of struggle.

One of the most impressive elements of this show was Smits’ use of hair as a choreographic element. Leahey’s blond tresses flipped, swooped, circled, and figure-eighted as she gradually gained more range of movement and repeatedly swung her upper body in circles. The hair often fell in front of her face obstructing her view and leaving her a faceless victim of her situation, but the choreography soon had her flipping her head to right it or using her arm to push it back.

Through the cyclical choreography, Leahey seemed to gradually become calmer and able to move more freely. Yet she was still not able to escape the cycle and was compelled to throw her body around, at one point throwing herself onto the stage as the lights turned off only to show her standing as they came back on and she repeated the motion over and over.

Leahey’s concentrated, resilient performance held this show for just under an hour as she seemed to be repeatedly pummeled by the choreography. Smits has created a powerful work that can’t help but hit you over the head with its message of fighting against oppression.