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Sci-fi and ballet: Choreographer explores anatomy and science through dance and costumes

When worlds collide, you get sci-fi ballet.
Ballet BC Dorotea Saykaly RELIC
Dorotea Saykaly's "Relic" explores dance through a sci-fi lens.

Sci-fi dance evokes an image of alien-esque movements and outlandish costumes, but choreographer Dorotea Saykaly takes on a much more creative, anatomical approach.

Ballet BC is back at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from May 12 to 14 to perform What If, their final program for the 2021-2022 season. The three-feature performance dives into human need and creation, but Saykaly is taking the theme a step further.

"What if we could create touch artificially?" she asks, entertaining the theme of her piece, Relic, which uses dance, costume, music and voice to explore "the dichotomy between artificial and organic, isolation and intimacy, human and animal," according to the show summary on Ballet BC's website.

"I really enjoy looking at a body that's trying to understand itself and try to elaborate on that," Saykaly tells Vancouver Is Awesome

The physical translation of this idea can be hard to envision, but Saykaly rendered it with ease, using "bodies that were starting from the floor [and] trying to build up from there," she explains.

The piece uses many dance styles despite remaining mainly in contemporary dance, and Saykaly invites "groove and precision," from dancers, encouraging a mix of those qualities, she explains.

With a science fiction theme like Relic's, the costumes are an extension of the body.

"[The costumes] are quite tight to the body. There's a mesh material that's involved, [and] netting. [It's] like the containment of the body parts. For me, it's a way to honour the body, to [see] an X-ray of the body revealing just certain parts of the body or skin; a mix of the dancers' real skin and then their second skin. I guess you could say the costume is to represent their second skin," Saykaly describes.

The original costume design was created by Saykaly's mother, who is a costume and fashion designer. Saykaly explains that the costumes centre around the idea of containment– how to contain the body and which areas might need more support on a body that's been created. The result is "uneven," according to the choreographer. 

"There's a little surprise element of costumes that's also involved, which is revealed in the show," she adds. "The music really creates an atmosphere for the whole piece. The composer that I'm working with is extremely creative and extremely talented. He really hit the tone that we needed to create this sci-fi world that still has some warmth and depth to it."

The final element of Relic is Saykaly's own voice. "[The voice-over] comes in at certain parts and specific parts of the piece. It's like another character, and it's a female voice– it's my voice that I recorded," she says.

Art and science may seem worlds apart, but when they come together the result can be beautiful.

What If

When: May 12-14, 2022 at 8 p.m.

Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Cost: $21.75-$115.25