Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal

"Light – Time – Open Space II" – celebrating 30 years of dance.

Théâtre Espace Go, Montréal

April 3, 2002
By Lena Marie Stuart

It hardly seems possible that thirty years have passed since dancer and choreographer Genevieve Salbaing, along with Eva von Gencsy and Eddy Toussaint, founded Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. LBJM has a history of combining ballet, modern dance and jazz – with a heavy emphasis on the latter. With works by five different choreographers on the bill, this diverse program exemplifies Artistic Director Louis Robitaille's mission to establish "fresh vision and inspiration" for the company.

The opening piece, Mia Michael's "Regressing Forward," is a solo set on the captivating Chèrice Barton. An homage to the early '80's, it evoked video vixens like Pat Benatar and Toni Basil. Sprawled on big black bean bag chair, Barton writhes with a video camera in hand. The small television set behind her displays close ups of her glossy red lips which adds to the overall retro feel of the piece. Thankfully, Barton is one heck of a dancer who more than made up for the technical glitch of the video being incorrectly synched to the performance, because unfortunately this gave away the disappointing fact that the video wasn't being projected in real time.

The use of video was much more successful in the retrospective of the company that followed. The rehearsal and performance clips were a real blast from the past. What a riot it was to see how much dancewear has changed over the past 30 years – it's certainly not as sexy as it was in the 1970's! Oh, the heady days of shirtless men in tight bellbottom jazz pants and slinky women in shiny lycra leos with high cut legs. And the moves – pliés in wide second position with arms circling, grands jetés with arms lifted into big V's, fingers splayed, heads thrown back. What really stood out in the video montage was how utterly joyous the company has been over the years, the dancers seem to be completely in love with the freedom to move uninhibitedly, to experience movement for movement's sake in the Ballets-Jazz' luscious style.

That light-hearted feeling was further advanced in Trey McIntyre's "Blue Until June." Set to swing and blues selections recorded by Etta James, the ensemble is as clean as a whistle. The dancers move through the different sections with exquisite precision. In spite of that fact that this kind of easy, breezy choreography isn't usually my cup of tea I couldn't help but be drawn in by the skill of the performers. McIntyre's take on simpler times did have some nice twists; I appreciated his sly variations on gender roles and relations.

Crystal Pite's "Short Works: 23" is a series of vignettes which keep the action on stage fresh. They're woven together with a big dollop of humour and just a pinch of Forsythe for good measure (via the angled extremities, in particular). The bumbling men in toques and their counterparts of ditzy women in blonde bobbed wigs provide some comic moments but don't dominate the work or overshadow Pite's choreographic skills, particularly in how she moves groups on and off stage and in her arrangements of performers in the space. This piece was the highlight of the program for me, perhaps because it wasn't your standard jazz fare. Pite's play with rhythm and timing offers her choreography a measure of complexity and it certainly stretches the definition of what fits into the company's repertoire.

"Tequila Shots" is a solo choreographed by Charlotte M. Griffin. Lourdes Gracia lurches to some sorrowful my-man-done-me-wrong crooning by Patsy Cline. She is fantastic as the woman scorned, ending her long and winding trail across the stage in a face down position. If only we were all as delightful as Gracia – and had such amazing extensions – in a drunken state. Something to work on...

Patrick Delcroix's "Sous le rythme, je" has a tribal feeling; five women with percussion instruments are elevated on a riser behind the men on stage. The women bang out a score, howling and wailing intermittently while the men huff and puff below. When the men form a circle and thump the ground in various rhythms the women perform from above, and later they join the men on stage. The group performed the piece well but from my perspective it didn't break any ground choreographically. The use of levels was inventive but I grew tired of the percussion and vocalising. This piece doesn't really capitalize on the talents of the company's brilliant dancers who aren't very interesting or skilled percussionists.

Today's dancers of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal really pull all out all the stops in performance. They may not be wearing shiny spandex, but they're as hot as their counterparts were 30 years ago. Here's to the next 30.

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Mary Ellen.

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