Review: British Ballet Columbia @ The Lowry, Salford

Vancouver-based dance company British Ballet Columbia, on their first UK tour, left a lasting impression during a sparsely-packed show at The Lowry.

In the first of two dates at the venue, the troupe put on a blistering display of contemporary ballet.

Though the audience were intimate in number, their silence throughout was indicative of the at-times entrancing movements of the dancers on stage.

The feeling of silence was brought on also by the sound and lighting. Industrial, pulsing beats opened the show and the dancers performed under downward lighting akin to that of a warehouse. Ballet has never been so cool.

Unusually, there were two intervals, in order to fit between the three acts: 16 + a room, Solo Echo, and the finale, Bill.

The first act immediately broke the fourth wall, as a ‘this a beginning’ sign was carried across the stage, giving that ‘contemporary art’ feel to the visual image of the show

The dancers’ movement in this section were slick and fluid and really caught the eye. If Act 2 was about emotion, then Act 1 was about shapes.

The dancers’ bodies were contorted and controlled by the tough and clinical environment that had been created. Movements, though smooth, often expressed a clipped sense of urgency, throwing out a superb tension and intrigue across the theatre.

Act 1 was at once a stealth mission, an industrial unit, raw nervous energy and a contortion of bodies.

Act 2 was very much an inward emotional gaze into the human soul. Not as stark and vulnerable and dangerous as the previous act, it felt distinctly more like ‘watching the ballet’.

There were just seven performers in this middle act, although with fewer dancers than in the opening segment, the scope for interaction between people increased.

Those on stage often moved in unison as a single being, and slowly writhing, would periodically be set in motion by the movement of an individual, setting off a chain reaction in the group. Think the Honda Accord ‘cog’ advert.

There were beautifully intricate interactions between pairs as well, and unusually men executing lifts with men, as well as women with women.

Choreographer Emily Molnar said: “I think it’s a sign of the times, there wasn’t a male-female barrier.”

To say it petered out would be mean, but third act Bill did inject a lot more ‘art’ into the evening. It also left audience members thinking ‘what am I watching’?.

At the height of its crazy Canadian artiness it involved the dancers congregating centre stage with one hand above their head, making bird shrieking noises – interesting to say the least.

The performers changed for the finale into a uniform yellow, with yellow face paint and white contact lenses, which actually gave them peripheral vision.

Overall though, the effect on the audience was special. The show was engaging and very cool in its tone and aesthetic appearance.

This is one for fans of ballet, fans of techno and fans of warehouses.

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