Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal (BJM) is celebrating its fortieth year with a full program of events, exhibitions, and performances. On Thursday night this dynamic troupe opened the Danse Danse season at Théâtre Maisonneuve with the usual skill, confidence, and flare that fans have come to expect over the years.
Forty in dance years is no spring chicken, but BJM, under the artistic direction of Louis Robitaille, has consistently sought fresh pieces by cutting-edge choreographers. The triple bill began with Cayetano Soto’s Fuel (2011), followed by Benjamin Millepied’s Closer (2006), and Barak Marshall’s Harry (2012). Each dance flaunted BJM’s highly stylized technique, serving up a bright, fast-paced feast for the eyes, although a rather modest supper for the mind.
Fuel, powered by Julia Wolfe’s orchestral composition of the same title, evokes a restless machine that beats incessantly. Dancers move with tense, spiked energy, creating a pulley system of levered bodies that, when released, dart and charge about the stage. At times they are the fuel itself, smooth and fluid, slick. The piece situates itself amid an industrial dystopia that seems more junkyard than factory. Dancers’ robotic jolts are both harsh and exhausting, revealing an undercurrent of cruelty and even sadism.
Relief comes in the subtle choreography of Closer and, ironically, in Phillip Glass’s composition Mad Rush. Millepied, a rising star, created Closer for BJM dancer Céline Cassone and New York City Ballet principal Sébastien Marcovici. Partnered here with Alexander Hille, Cassone is clearly at ease with the piece and is exquisite to watch. She moves freely, playing with but not teasing Hille’s attentive lover. The couple recently joined Cas Public’s ensemble cast in Duels at Agora de la danse. Here, their talents are given the time and space they deserve.
The ‘J’ in Ballet Jazz can be troublesome. You know it’s coming, but you just don’t know when and for how long. At 45 minutes, Harry is the longest piece of the night and hokey at best. Dancers shoot each other with balloons and lament the harshness of life. This is Bugsy Malone meets Westside Story meets Cinderella. “Life is sad,” proclaims one dancer, “but there is so much to celebrate.” With Harry, Marshall, an Israeli-American choreographer, claims to tackle the theme of conflict. Yet the script – yes, dancers talk – is so contrived and, on the whole, poorly delivered, that it’s hard to appreciate this ode to our inner battles. I couldn’t help but celebrate the end of Harry.
With the Danse Danse season finally upon us, however, my lamentations are over. BJM kicks off this diverse line-up with panache.
Danse Danse (with Fuel, Closer and Harry) run to September 29.
For more information, go to Ballet Jazz Montreal.