‘Ghosts of Violence’ a powerful portryal of domestic violence

Joan Sullivan
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A scene from The Ghosts of Violence. — Submitted photo

“Ghosts of Violence” is a ballet of contemporary choreography exploring the vital issue of domestic violence. That may seem an uncomfortable subject for an artistic work, and, for sure the performance has no pretence of treating the subject as something rare, or that should be kept hidden. But it doesn’t badger or hector the audience either.

Through a series of solos, duets, ensembles and tableaus, the eight dancers (Leigh Alderson, Kyle Davey, Samantha-Jane Gray, Anton Lykhanov, Anya Nesvitaylo, Sergiy Diyanov, Janie Richard, Olena Zakharova, and Brian Gephart) create pieces of power and beauty, as they interweave stories and characters, conflict and culmination. The tension is constant, the action ranging from seductive to brutal.

Throughout the dancers are complemented by video works playing on five screens, possibly the best integrated example of this I’ve seen.

The full-length ballet grew from a 2007 seven-minute piece put together by Igor Dobrovolskiy, the ballet company’s artistic director and choreographer. Demand for a longer piece was immediate and strong enough that the ballet company brought in playwright and dramaturge Sharon Pollock and a full-length, two-act ballet was created. Source material included case information and personal histories of 23 New Brunswick women who had been slain by their partners, and other research into domestic and dating violence in Canada.

“Ghosts of Violence” is based on four real-life cases. Some text about each is included in the program, as well as a brief narrative about “She” and “He,” a core couple whose relationship carries the audience through the two acts.

The costumes are modern and fashionable, the props — a chair, a table — very simple, and effectively employed. There are moments, for example, when a man sits his female partner down and tilts her off-balance — it is powerful. Most of the action, though, is purely, and compelling, physical. It would be hard to single anything out from this fairly tight, solid, and emotional work, but Nesvitaylo, as “She,” has some particularly beguiling and poignant moments.  

To note again the visuals: it is amazing how they flow, sometimes as panels of one image, sometimes interlocking sequences from a series of images (a tree and sky that morph into white on black, a wallpapered interior that erodes) that reflect and enhance what is happening on stage. Sometimes the dancers seem to jump from a film frame to the stage and this brings a depth of perspective and a simultaneous sense of overlapping time periods that strengthens the presence and the movement of the company on stage. New York filmmaker and projection designer Adam Larsen added this multi-media component to the piece.

With music by Alfred Schnittke, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, and lighting by Pierre Lavoie, “Ghosts of Violence” debuted at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in February 2011.

“Ghosts of Violence” is scheduled to run Nov. 1 in Gander, Nov. 5 in Grand Falls-Windsor, Nov. 7 in Corner Brook and Nov. 9 in Stephenville. There are tentative plans to bring it to Labrador in spring 2013, and to 40 communities across Canada over the next three years. Tickets are $25 ($18 for seniors, students and those under 18) and these are available online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.

Organizations: National Arts Centre

Geographic location: Canada, New Brunswick, New York Gander Corner Brook Stephenville Labrador

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