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Group pulse:A [bjm_danse]

Slinky Ballet

By Mae G. Banner


The 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 the festivities.

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 were we.

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.

Mapa 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 gym toy.

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.

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