Angels' Atlas Returns
October 25, 2021
Crystal Pite and Aritsts of the Ballet in rehearsal. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Crystal Pite’s profoundly moving work, Angels’ Atlas, made its world premiere on February 29, 2020 to unanimous acclaim.
The ensemble work feels prescient in light of recent global events. The intimate, communal experience it portrays, with nearly every dancer in the company coalescing against a spectral wall of light, is sympathetic to the yearning, suffering and solace of life in the pandemic, making the ballet’s return an emotional one.
When Crystal created the piece she shared her thoughts about what inspired her to create the work.
Note from Crystal Pite
The impetus for this creation came from my partner and set designer Jay Gower Taylor. Through our last few creations, Jay has been developing a system that allows him to manipulate reflected light. Working with lighting designer Tom Visser, they've been discovering a myriad of ways to deliver light to a surface.
The system is analog, made of the simplest materials, yet it manifests complex, painterly images that have the illusion of depth and a sense of the natural world.
There is a quality of controlled chaos about it. The light dances on a pivoting, reflective topography, creating the conditions for the unexpected to appear. For us, this wall of morphing, shifting light is a frontier, a portal, a portrait of the unknown.
When I was a little kid, my uncle and my dad talked to me a lot about the cosmos. Sometimes I would experience a dizzying thrill in brief moments of embodied comprehension: it felt like I was falling within the vastness of it all. They inspired me to wonder about colossal ideas that were, and always will be, beyond my grasp and to approach great unanswerable questions with imagination and creativity.
Working with light in this way reminds me of that feeling of wonder and my longing to lean into the unknowable. The light looks intelligent, awesome. The chaos and beauty of it make me feel small in a thrilling, destabilized way. Small, in the face of unanswerable questions about things like love, death and the infinite.
The movement of the light is mercurial and ephemeral in the same way that choreography is. It reminds me of something the writer and critic Max Wyman said about dance:
It is an artform that simultaneously defines and defies the ephemerality of existence. We have nothing but the body, and soon enough we will not even have the body.
But it is that physicality that speaks so eloquently about the implications of mortality and at the same time voices our defiance.
No other artform speaks so directly about the fragile, temporary quality of life, or about the human instinct to transcend those bonds and aim for that perfect moment of self-realization.
I like to think of the body as a location, a place where being is held and shaped. In this way, dance gives form to the unknown. In the dancing body, the unknown appears as something both familiar and extraordinary. We might possibly catch a glimpse of something eternal. But both the dancers and the dance are temporary: their beauty resonates with meaning because of their impermanence. This is potent for me. I like working in a form that is always in a state of disappearing.
Our dances, like our lives, are built in relationship with time… and by extension, mortality.
I am trying to create something that speaks of our impermanence and ‘voices our defiance’ as Wyman says. Something that evokes a fierce pulse of life. The ephemeral part will take care of itself.
I would like to thank my masterful and inspiring design team: Jay, Tom, Nancy and Owen, and my tireless assistants Spencer and Stephanie. Thank you to Artemis Gordon and the students of Arts Umbrella in Vancouver who helped me prepare and test choreographic material for this creation. Thank you to Karen Kain for giving me this precious opportunity to make and share my work here. Finally, thank you to the beautiful dancers of The National Ballet of Canada, who are truly the lifeblood of this creation.
Artists of the Ballet in Angels' Atlas. Photo by Karolina Kuras.