Spotlighting Canadian Talent through International Relationships: Successful Collaboration at VIDF

Emboldened by the integrated support of GMDC dancers, the classically trained Goh Ballet students held their own in Liu Qi’s much anticipated Mustard Seed. This partnership urged the audience not to focus on differences, but to compare similarities between the performers. In this way it became conclusive that these companies complement each other in interesting ways.

Vancouver International Dance Festival, Goh Ballet Academy, Walpurgisnacht
The Goh Ballet Academy performs George Balanchine's 'Walpurgisnacht Ballet,' then switches gears to wow audiences in Guangdong Modern Dance Company's premier of 'Mustard Seed' at this year's Vancouver International Dance Festival. Photo credit: David Cooper

On Friday, March 7, 2014 the Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF) opened its Vancouver Playhouse series with a collaborative production from China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company (GMDC) and Vancouver’s own Goh Ballet Academy. In many ways, it was the beautiful coming together of two worlds: east and west, ballet and contemporary, amateur and expert. We can come to rely on productions like the VIDF to help spotlight these kinds of international bonds and strengthen Vancouver’s artistic efforts.

GMDC, founded in 1992, is mainland China’s first modern dance company whose director is a long-time friend of the Goh and artistic advisor to Goh Ballet productions. GMDCs resident choreographer, Liu Qi, has gained international recognition for her many works created for the company and agreed to choreograph a collaborative work with the Goh, called Mustard Seed, that debuted at the VIDF.

This partnership urged the audience not to focus on differences, but to compare similarities between the performers. In this way it became conclusive that these companies complement each other in interesting ways. Despite the variation in genre, technicality, and professional experience, it seemed that grace and aerobics were the means to a classically modern end for each performance.

Modern Masters

GMDC opened the show with a meditation on the elemental poetry of Bei Dao in a performance called Voice After. Despite Liu Qi’s reputation in the contemporary dance world, I felt her classical training greatly influenced this piece.

The dancers began with floor work emulative of ocean waves: breathy, fluid, and rhythmic. Masters of contemporary grace, these dancers flowed and glided as if they had no bones in their body (how wonderful: to be able to move like water!)

There was a strong emphasis on arm movements that veered the choreography further into interpretive style, fused with Asian stylistic influences like rolling hand-gestures, as well as yogic and martial arts postures.

At once, a single motion of the body rippled outward to affect another dancer, and, slowly, complemented by the piano chimes of Paul Dresher’s composition, drifting bodies merged into a fast-moving current of physical partner work. Rebounding off of one another in a series of throws and catches, their movements escalated into a stormy upsurge, crashing on the floor and, for the first time, aggressively looking at the audience head-on.

But as soon as this tempest had started, it was over with a dimming of the lights and heralding from the audience.

Blossoming Talent

Compared to the natural movements of the GMDC dancers and the moody atmosphere of Voice After, it was somewhat startling to be taken into the cheerfully energetic world of George Balanchine so suddenly. It would have been more difficult to change gears had the Goh not been successful in immediately capturing the essence of grace and sharpness that was so apparent in the previous performance. Balanchine’s visionary modern ballet style also aided in bridging the gap between a potential quarter century evolution in modern choreography.

These Goh Ballet students were all smiles as the Walpurgisnacht Ballet demanded quick and precise allegro variations with seemingly incompatible calm and grace. I also give credit to those soloists who attacked the dreaded petite allegro en pointe (hopping on the tips of your pointe shoes) that Balanchine seems so eager to interpose throughout his pieces.

Marriage of Two Worlds

Emboldened by the integrated support of GMDC dancers, the classically trained Goh Ballet students held their own in Liu Qi’s much anticipated Mustard Seed. Although these students may have been somewhat out of their element, they approached the piece with as much energy and commitment that they gave to Balanchine.

Mustard Seed was a contemplation on Buddhist imagery: the small wonder of a mustard seed that has the potential to encapsulate the entire universe. Beginning with a single dancer and slowly growing into group work, this piece required an astonishing amount of teamwork for all parties. Each dancer was a single piece of the whole kaleidoscopic picture, sometimes acting as the cog in a machine, or one point on a pendulum.

In the end, as the audience voiced their satisfaction, it seemed to me that this performance was not only a unique artistic opportunity for these young Canadian dancers, but also a valuable exercise in professional development that they may not have experienced anywhere else.

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