Crystal Pite connects body and soul at the Paris Opera Ballet

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Body and Soul | Crystal Pite for the Paris Opera Ballet | Digidance | Streaming online only in Canada | February 17 – 23, 2021

What happens when you take a series of stage directions and expand their meaning, interpret them in different ways, and translate that meaning into movement? In Body and Soul, Crystal Pite does just that, expanding meaning through movement and exploring the connection between words and movement as much as between bodies and souls.

Pite’s second creation for the Paris Opera Ballet premiered in 2019 and recently made its Canadian debut on screen via Digidance, a new national initiative to stream Canadian dance online.

The work continues Pite’s signature choreographic style that has been seen in works such as Revisor — using text as a starting point that leads to representative movement. In Part One, Figure One and Figure Two are described by a voiceover as they interpret the stage directions such as “the hands move incessantly” or “leans on elbow, head bowed.”

As with most of Pite’s work, the choreography is detailed and precise, full of complex emotion, and the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet have both the technical and emotional fortitude to do it justice. When watching the first duet between the two figures, interpreted as a conflict that ends in a physical struggle, the movement seems to fit the words perfectly. Until a second duet interprets the directions as a heartbreaking moment between a romantic pair and that interpretation seems to fit so perfectly that I had to double check the words were in fact the same. This goes to show that the same words can produce vastly different meanings.

The duets are expanded as each figure becomes a mass of figures on stage, the voiceover and their movements becoming increasingly abstracted until the words are just vocalizations and the movements are unrecognizable.

In Part Two, the movements are abstracted further, but there is always a connection to the original movements or text that holds everything together. The one becomes the many and the many becomes the one as dancers break away from and meld back into large groups that morph and flow into different formations, including an undulating line of dancers clasping hands, those on the left dressed in white, those on the right in black. From the first duets, the work expands into multitudes, solos, and further duets that show the potential that lies in the meaning of any text, and the impact that one individual can have on a group.

In the final act, the interpretation becomes so abstracted from the original text and movement that it is a fantasy world of reflective metallic sets and costumes. It would be easy to say that Part Three doesn’t fit with the previous sections, but it boldly takes the interpretation of the original text to the extreme. Wearing insect-like claws that extend their arms in intimidating spikes, pointe shoes to extend their legs, and full silver masks and body suits, the dancers prowl around in imposing swarms.

A furry creature in gold pants emerges to groove to Teddy Geiger’s “Body and Soul.” It’s an infectious song that emphasizes the yearning for connection seen in the previous parts of the piece and remarkably creates a link between the first straightforward duets and the frantic hairy character dancing his heart out.

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