Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal at Jacob’s Pillow
June 30, 2010 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath.
To the average dance layperson, “ballet jazz” may sound like an oxymoron, two diametrically opposed movement languages derived from wildly different culture bases. For Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, a company born of a specific time and place (circa 1972 Quebec), the genre of ballet jazz addresses a vital modern dilemma—how to take what we receive artistically from the Past and make it relevant to the Now. The creation of ballet jazz was one solution to this challenge, and this synthesis of forms has evolved over two generations in this vibrant company. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
Artistic Director Lois Robitaille has made a priority of engaging up and coming choreographers to work with his company in a regular series of creative residencies. The pieces on this program represent the culmination of two such workshops with the choreographers Aszure Barton and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.
The mission of this company is to uplift and to inspire, to connect to audiences in a range of human emotion through accessible dance. Ballet is the foundation for this company’s superstrong technical abilities. The ballet is then combined with the traits we associate with jazz—syncopation, isolations, theatricality, sexiness, and also with the strengths of these dancers—speed, easy athleticism, rhythmic prowess and sensuality. The result for the audience is a torrent of vicarious feeling.
All these marvelous qualities are present in Barton’s piece Les Chambre Des Jacques (2006). Charmingly earthy, poignant moments unfold in a strange emotional logic; wild, spasming possession is contrasted with masterly, sensuous control. A forward undulation toward a potential partner initiates a peeling back motion, the electrifyingly narrow space between the bodies shifting upward. The ladies are archetypally dressed in short, ruffled, white dresses and red-toned corsets while the men, with the exception of one jacket, are dressed in the earth tones of day laborers.
The eclectic musical selections – Alberto Inglesias, Les Yeux Noirs, Gilles Vigneault, Antonio Vivaldi – are deftly arranged, the texture and tonality of the Yiddish and Gipsy music somehow finding an emotional resonance with the soaring classical arias. Each new transition from song to song is like walking through a door into another room in a rambling and elaborately decorated house—all connected, the choices intriguing in themselves.
Ochoa’s half of the itinerary, Locked Up Laura (2008), created specifically for Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal and Zip Zap Zoom (2009), have strong conceptual frameworks. In the duet Locked Up Laura, a female dancer lies on the floor until prodded into action by her partner, a combination boss/assistant/puppeteer. An example of extreme, sinuous pointework, the line between virtuosic technique and mechanical motion, is crossed and recrossed. This piece explores the dynamics between moving for oneself and being moved, and the nature of artistic autonomy in a relational art with unceasing demands.
Online gaming is the theme of the second piece, and a large three-dimensional moving backdrop becomes another presence on stage. We observe the stages of a game: the selection of the avatar; the interactions of the avatars in a series of duets; a humorous Simon’s Says type of dance-off competition; a fantastical trio in which the woman is partnered by two men in such a way that it seems like she is flying – eventually leading to a final crashing-through of real life with “real” dancing at the very end.
“Real” is an operative word for Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal. In describing Aszure Barton’s collaborative choreographic process, Robitaille said that her intent was to find “real life” in the strong personalities and quirks of the dancers. Robitaille thinks that we have just come through a period of time in the dance world where the chorographer took precedence over the dancer. He believes that the time has come again to put the dancer first.
The show runs two hours with one fifteen minute intermission.
You may be interested in: Review of Nina Ananiashvili, State Ballet of Georgia at Jacob’s Pillow.