Visually arresting and breathtakingly intimate, Crystal Pite: Angels' Atlas combines elements of cinema verite with high-octane dance sequences to reveal the singular vision of world-renowned choreographer Crystal Pite. Culminating in a cinematically immersive live performance of her acclaimed ballet Angels' Atlas, the film follows Pite and a group of dancers at the National Ballet of Canada, as they remount the ambitious ballet after a two-year shutdown due to COVID-19.
A testament to the potency of live performance amid collective upheaval, Crystal Pite: Angels' Atlas grants audiences unprecedented access into the creative process of one of the most intriguing choreographers working today, through candid interviews and intimate rehearsal footage.
Directed by Chelsea McMullan, the film builds toward a raw and emotional opening night, which marks the National Ballet's first production back from lockdown. Set against a shifting backdrop of reflective light, Angels' Atlas explores themes of grief, loss, and the delicate nature of connection, themes made only more resonant under the shadow of an ongoing pandemic. Intercut with spectacular visuals as the performance unfolds, Crystal Pite: Angels' Atlas unveils the creative process of a world-renowned artist while paying homage to the ephemeral beauty of human bodies, together in motion.
The impetus for Angels' Atlas came from Crystal Pite's partner and set designer Jay Gower Taylor who worked with lighting designer Tom Visser to develop an analog method of manipulating reflective light to create complex, painterly images.
A quote from writer and critic Max Wyman about dance greatly inspired Pite: “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.”
Pite wanted Angels' Atlas to evoke “a fierce pulse of life.” She achieves this in part through the score, which includes electronic music by her longtime collaborator Owen Belton featuring samples of clicking sounds, voices, bells and a heartbeat.
Two ethereal choral works bookend Belton's score: Tchaikovsky's liturgical Hymn of the Cherubim and Morten Lauridsen's contemporary work, O Magnum Mysterium. Pite chose vocal works in part because they are tied so irrevocably to the body.
Angels' Atlas won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards in 2020: Crystal Pite for Outstanding New Choreography and Jay Gower Taylor for Outstanding Achievement in Design.