Vancouver choreographer Crystal Pite admits to feeling pre-show jitters ahead of the Canadian premiere of one of her most ambitious choreographic works.
The founder of Kidd Pivot realizes that this angst is a bit bizarre, given that the Paris Opera Ballet made its debut Body and soul in the fall of 2019 at the Palais Garnier to thunderous applause. The filmed version is forever safe from gaffes.
“Nothing can go wrong,” Pite told the Straight by telephone. “The lights will work and the dancers will dance beautifully.”
Plus, she knows what the 85-minute film looks like because she helped edit it with director Tommy Pascal.
“But, nevertheless, I have this little feeling of nervousness, at the idea of being exposed, of being vulnerable,” she continues. “Yeah, it kinda makes me anxious to think about sharing it like that.”
Streaming of the film was made possible thanks to Digidance. This is a new partnership between Vancouver’s DanceHouse, Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, Ottawa’s National Arts Center and Montreal’s Danse Danse to bring long-running Canadian and international dance performances into homes.
“The Paris Opera Ballet would never land in Vancouver to put on a show,” said DanceHouse Artistic Director Jim Smith. Straight by telephone. “We are collectively reaching out to a national audience.”
According to Pite, Body and soul emerged from a piece of text that she and Electric Company art director Jonathon Young worked with when creating a previous production titled Reviser.
Young voiced the words of the text – which were stage directions describing a conflict between two characters – but they did not include this passage in this show.
“I kept this little bit of text in my back pocket, thinking I would use it for something,” Pite says. “So when it came time to do Body and soulI started with that.
For his big shows featuring large groups of dancers, Pite first enjoys working with students from Arts Umbrella in Vancouver.
“They’re kind of like my big, beautiful sketchbook,” she says.
With Body and soul, she embellishes this text and imagines how this conflict could be played out with 35 or 40 dancers rather than two. The lyrics were translated into French and recorded by French actor Marina Hands. Pite’s longtime Vancouver collaborator, Owen Belton, created the music.
“The play is presented in three distinct parts, three distinct worlds,” says Pite. “I see it as a kind of triptych – and the main focus of the evening is this little piece of text I was talking about.”
Body and soul explores how the meaning of these words can change depending on how they are embodied by the dancers and presented by the narrator.
In one scene, says Pite, the words unfold like a big protest scene. From the third section, the dancers swarm like non-human creatures in the natural world.
“I don’t want the wordless nature of dance to prevent me from working on any kind of complex story,” says Pite. “So I’m interested in history, yes, but I’m also interested in the structures of history.”
Body and soul is his second show with the Paris Opera Ballet after the Canon des saisons, created in 2016. The associate artistic director of his company, the Quebec native Eric Beauchesne, explained the nuances of his choreography to the French dancers.
“The dancers of the Paris Opera [Ballet] were so open and so curious and full of a kind of artistic thirst, fascination and seriousness,” says Pite. “It was remarkable to see.”