jazz hot: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
Mae G. Banner
Ballets Jazz de Montreal
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
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 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.