By Mae G. Banner
Egg, Oct. 27
Their name [bjm_danse] is opaque, but their dancing is transparent.
This splendid company from Montreal danced two big new works
at the Egg last Friday and left the audience limp with pleasure.
Most exciting was Aszure Barton’s Les chambres des Jacques,
a world premiere for the company of 13 highly individual dancers.
Barton, a young Canadian choreographer, protégée of Baryshnikov,
and a consistent hit at Jacob’s Pillow, has a high-flying
imagination and sense of daring that propels her dances into
eye-opening aesthetic realms. She likes to work with unexpected
mixes of music—Baroque and funk, Celtic and klezmer—and equally
surprising mixes of movement, from ballet to jazz.
In Les chambres, Barton set the scene with a manic
break-dancing man, shirtless and wearing a tweed jacket with
a red kerchief in his breast pocket. He jerked and clogged
wildly to music of Brittany by Gilles Vigneault, while a shadowy
line of women provided a still silhouette frieze behind him.
Percussive folksy music meshed brilliantly with contemporary
movement. The dancer, working in a square of light downstage
right, seemed to amaze himself with his quirky prowess.
He was soon matched by a counterpart in the opposite corner,
and then joined by the line of women in corselets and funky
period underwear, all ruffles and pantaloons. Now, the music
shifted to Vivaldi, sung by a polished contralto, and the
controlled madness of a twisted Baroque dance ratcheted up
There followed a long section set to the dark, Eastern beat
of the Cracow Klezmer Band (which Barton has used in a previous
dance). This set up a series of vignettes, erotic and celebratory,
that suggested a happily drunken wedding party. Seductions
and attempted seductions emerged on every part of the stage.
Stories were hinted at, their meanings left to our imaginations.
Again, there was nothing Hebrew about the moves to this heartbreakingly
soulful music, but simply the sinuous, virile, rhythmic dancing
of men with bent knees and extended legs sliding forward,
hauling up emotive dance from the depths of history.
There were delicious moments when dancers leaned on each other
and then everybody staggered, gaily in their cups. In another
passage, two couples stretched and bent backwards before a
still woman, whose silence was full of meaning.
Accordions, fiddles, tango-jazz by Les Yeux Noirs activated
changes in the drama as groups and couples moved to center
and faded back under mauve light. Couples connected and parted,
promised and broke promises until a final waltz to silky violins
set their bodies twisting in mad slow motion, so oddly beautiful
as they coiled and crawled. The dancers were spent and so
The opening dance, Mapa, was more conventional, but
displayed the ensemble in hip-twisting, samba-inflected precision.
Choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras of the Brazilian troupe
Grupo Corpo (another Pillow favorite) set dancers in black,
searing red, and white against a dizzying Op-Art backdrop,
a checkerboard pulled into berserk shapes.
looked a lot like Pederneiras’ works for his home company,
emphasizing a unison line with lots of hip action and back
kicks, an endlessly flowing group pulse like an escuela
da samba slinking down a Rio avenue at carnival. Occasionally,
a couple would break out to perform a quick duet, then blend
back into the line. Slight variations in the group’s moves
were like the shifts in minimalist music. Virtuosity did have
its moments, as when two men caught one woman and suspended
her in swoopy lifts and dives, then slid her along the floor
in a split. She was their willing playmate, like a living
We saw brief, fiery solos, male and female, and some exciting
passages performed off the beat. In all, Mapa was a
dance of fast changes of direction, bodies that opened and
closed, and tight group patterns that highlighted, by contrast,
the slinkiness of the samba music.
Louis Robitaille, who has directed [bjm_danse] since 1998,
when it was called Ballet Jazz de Montreal, has been commissioning
unusual dances from international choreographers to show off
his troupe’s skill and versatility. Friday’s concert presented
a pair of stunning choices in knockout performances.