Review: Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal at Jacob’s Pillow
Celine Cassone and Nathan Madden in Locked Up Laura (photo: Christopher Duggan)
There’s an acute pleasure in seeing beautiful, finely trained dancers not only perform but own complex, unpredictable choreography, and that pleasure is available to audiences at Jacob’s Pillow this weekend as Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal (BJM) continues its weekend run through Sunday afternoon. The three-piece program begins with Les Chambres des Jacques by Aszure Barton, a Pillow favorite since her 2004 standout debut on the Inside/Out stage, after which her career as a choreographer skyrocketed. The piece begins with the spotlight on the charismatic Robert Knowles, who performs like a frenetic puppet on a string while the other dancers remain in silhouette, like wind-up toys waiting for their turns – and though it’s a true ensemble work, Knowles remains a focal point, proving magnetic every second he’s onstage. This high-energy piece is rewarding for Barton fans, delivering her trademark sinuous, sexy, off-center movement and unpredictable shifts in balance and direction, which the dancers perform with grace and no hint of preparation.
These skills come in handy for the two works that follow by Netherlands-based, Belgian/Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who created Locked Up Laura for BJM. The duet was originally set on Celine Cassone and James Gregg, though Nathan Madden gives such a masterful performance that one would never know it wasn’t made for him. While Cassone was certainly eye-catching in the previous dance, she delivers her star turn en pointe in this despair-laden work this work, a reflection on the lives of performers, filled with awkward movements and poignant moments that make full use of Cassone’s languid angularity, impeccable line, and precision.
The final piece, Zip Zap Zoom, could have been merely a lightweight crowd-pleaser, based as it is on video games and avatars in virtual worlds, but Ochoa infuses it with substance, thanks in part to the computer-generated animations that hark back to the era of Tron. Much of the piece is bright, playful, and predictably fast-paced and fun—especially a section where the men compete to execute commands (wiping, falling, folding, turning) that come at them with increasing rapidity and eccentricity (sneezing, burping, wheezing). Other sections take on a subtle seriousness, especially a stark, color-drained segment in which the men perform quick, sharp moves as computer jargon scrolls by in the background – common words such as “challenge,” “aim,” “load,” “reload,” and “escape” – subtly suggesting the violence of single-person-shooter games without hitting viewers over the head with the idea. It ends in the “real world,” as the dancers shed their avatars and emerge as gamer kids dancing with the energetic anger of youth to Thomas Hellman’s hip-hoppy hit, La Jeunesse, to color-splashed, graffitti-inspired animations. In this finale, as is true throughout the evening, the individuality of the dancers shines through, even though the form and technique of each is as brilliant as that of Balanchine’s archetypical, uniform ballerinas. Indeed, high-caliber ensemble performance from a troupe of dancers who maintain their distinct looks seems to be a hallmark of BJM that helps them rise above the pack. It’s a great choice for a terpsichorean pyrotechnics before the Fourth of July fireworks begin.
Jacob’s Pillow, Ted Shawn Theatre