Last week I was fortunate enough to catch Nederlands Dans Theater: An Evening With Crystal Pite, part of the Front Row Centre Events Dance Series at Cineplex. Each presentation of the series screens a dance film in theatres across the country via satellite, offering audiences the best of the world’s dance performances on the big screen.Vancouver-based Crystal Pite is one of Canada’s most exciting choreographers, internationally renowned for theatrical, poetic and incredibly physical dance works. Often focusing on love, conflict and loss, Crystal’s imaginative choreographies illustrate universal themes through the intimacy of the dancing body and the power of spectacular mise-en-scène. As a young dancer, Pite spent eight years with Vancouver’s Ballet BC, and then joined Ballet Frankfurt, led by the incomparable William Forsythe. In 2002 she launched her company Kidd Pivot, and since then has created and toured an impressive body of work, as well as undertaken many North American and European commissions. Crystal’s choreographic voice is an arresting mélange of ballet vocabulary, contemporary and improvisational forms, theatricality, humour, and even puppetry. Her vision is absolutely unique—it’s no wonder she is such a force on the international dance scene.
“Parade,” the first choreography of the film is, in simplistic terms, a war between a group of chaotic clowns and a regimented marching band. As Crystal writes in her program notes, the piece is allegorical. “For me, the parade is an apt image of imagination, absurdity, and ritual. The play between the disorganized clowns and the rank-and-file marching band exemplifies the tension between instinct and intellect, rational and irrational, unconscious and conscious.” Over the course of the piece, both the clowns and the band are destroyed, the conflict slowly stripping away their exaggerated characters to reveal a vulnerable humanity. The piece is rife with theatrical elements, gorgeous dancing, an outstanding black-lit rubber chicken dance, and emotional collisions between warring factions played out in extraordinary pas de deuxs.
In “Frontier,” the second half of the film, Crystal muses on “dark matter,” (perceived and proven to be about 96 percent of the observable universe, although no one knows exactly what it is). The very act of creating is a particular fascination for Crystal, and "Frontier" dives deep. “Creation for me is about experiencing unknown territory, but it is also about trying to perceive my own mind,” she writes. “Working and living in a state of not knowing is hard for me. I’m trying to connect to the shadows in order to illuminate something: bringing images to light by feeling around in the dark.”
The shadows of “Frontier” are dancers robed entirely in black, faces hidden by black hoods. The shadow dancers sometimes dance in tandem with their human counterparts, sometimes out of sync. They often manipulate—it is as if an unknown puppeteer is pulling all the strings.
Moving seamlessly from close ups to long shots, the film’s cinematography and direction show an impressive knowledge of dance on film. In just 90 minutes, the audience is brought into Crystal Pite’s world, a place full of heart, humanity and terrific dancing.
The next Front Row Centre Dance Series event is the holiday classic The Nutcracker (December 12th). And to see Crystal Pite’s company in action, Kidd Pivot is touring Canada this season. Amongst several other Canadian dates, Pite’s The Tempest Replica will be performed in Vancouver March 6-8, 2014 at SFU Woodward’s, and in Toronto May 7-11, 2014 at Canadian Stage.
Crystal Pite photographed by Michael Slobodian.