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Le jazz hot: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.

Conceptual Crazies
By Mae G. Banner

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
The Egg, Nov. 6

Part ballet, part modern, part comedy, and a whole lot of dance theater, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal blew into the Egg like a fresh northern wind. Their full-evening dance, The Stolen Show, by their resident choreographer, Crystal Pite, defies categories. It looks like nothing I’ve seen before; yet, it fits these dancers like a fur-lined glove.

The 14 dancers are variously trained as actors, gymnasts and acrobats, but they all have a strong ballet base and a contemporary sensibility. Moreover, each is a personality with her or his own quirks. Pite, a former dancer with the company and with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, not only respects these quirks, she makes the most of them.

The three-part show opens with Short Works: 24, a set of snapshots that presents the dancers in brief solos and duets, peppered with comical group interludes and the unlikely appearance of a bear that seems bemused at finding itself so far from the Yukon. These quick takes show us dancers with extraordinary control and a nice sense of fun.

Pite sometimes sets a soloist or duet jiggling at stage right, while a row of half a dozen dancers lies prone at stage left, dancing only with their heads and their elbows in a set of shooting-gallery calisthenics. The group’s moves were so pleasingly odd, I kept watching them and neglecting the main dancers.

Language is used to demystify dance-making as Short Works: 24 slides into Xspectacle (danced in rehearsal clothes) and then, imperceptibly, into the glittery final section, The Stolen Show. Everyone greets each other in a Babel of three languages: English, French and Spanish, which adds to the clamorous fun.

We see the dancers warm up during intermission with the house lights on. We hear them count in breathy whispers, their voices blending with Owen Belton’s original score, which sounds like pebbles rattling over sand. Rubinger ties his body into unpredictable knots, balancing on one shoulder or on his neck.

Then, we meet Jesse Robb and Francine Liboiron as they fine-tune an arm-wrapping duet, walking the periphery of the stage and discussing, in two languages, how to make it work. They pick up speed, change directions in an eye blink. Breathless, he sinks to the ground, and she supports his neck in a position like the Pieta. Suddenly, the stage goes dark, except for a spotlight on the couple. The electronic music intensifies. Practice has become performance.

Artistic director Louis Robitaille has called The Stolen Show a conceptual dance. Like conceptual art in other disciplines, it shows its hand deliberately. In the final part, the dancers repeat sequences we’ve seen before, but, this time, with the didactic addition of explanatory signs and the theatrical elaboration of fancy costumes, lighting, and lovely showers of colored stardust.

We’re invited to a circus and told we’ll be seeing “a cast of thousands.” What turns up instead is Edgar Zendejas in a full-bore sequined jacket, an Elvis wig, and a complement of a dozen rubber chickens. He leaps onto a chair and, directing in Spanish, teaches Rubinger how to juggle the chickens, to the audience’s delight.

Later, we’re treated to a chorus line of chickens maneuvered by the dancers. They do the step-kick with their bright orange feet, and even a chicken body wave that passes through the line.

Another wonderful comedy bit could be called “the stolen shoe.” Booth, the shortest woman, tiptoes in, teetering on one stiletto-heeled silver shoe. She creeps up on the tallest woman (who’s lying full-length on the floor) and swipes one of her silver shoes. The dance proceeds, in meticulous rhythm, the coveted shoe snatched and snatched again, changing feet without missing a beat.

A deconstructed Bob Fosse number, Big Spender, slings the dancers forward in a jolt of energy, until one of them suddenly exits, pursued by the bear. From here on, it’s all razzle-dazzle circus spangles of blue, red, and silver right up to the shimmery end.

I’m not sure who stole the show (maybe, the bear), but I know I had a real good time.

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