TooT & Noces – review

TooT & Noces
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal

Precision, energy, athleticism, humor, and a fine sense of graphic design are the hallmarks of Gradimir Pankov’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. In 2000 the Macedonian, Pankov, took over direction of the company and moved it from a solid, if a bit staid, classical ballet company to a fresh and innovative group infused with energy, yet exhibiting technique exquisitely grounded on knowledgeable ballet footing.

TooT, the first of the two pieces playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, is set in a circus milieu. Mime-like with whitened faces and conical hair, the dancers emerge onstage individually creating a line in front of the curtain to Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2. As the curtain opens the music has a jazz by way of baroque feel, its driving beat propelling the dancers to vigorous but playful movement as they minimally transform the bare stage into a circus ring by a series of curved blocks which later become low walls that can be reversed to become mirrors, and even be turned to be rockers, as the dance relentlessly pulses on. Choreographer, Didy Veldman, weaves more soulful music by the Balanescu Quartet into the Shostakovich, but the driving rhythm propels the movement.

Both TooT and Noces are abstract, ensemble pieces. There might be a sense of place, the circus for TooT, a peasant wedding for Noces, but no story is told and the focus is on the angular, almost gymnastic and perfectly timed movement of the dancers. If anything, the goal is absurdity in pursuit of one arresting image after another. Midway through TooT squirt guns appear symbolically breaking the troupe into individual factions, to be united by a member assuming leadership with a bullhorn who, army like, assembles the dancers into groups and issues commands. Conformity does not reign for long as the bullhorn is snatched away and another dancer sings Bolare, while others make various exclamations in at least three languages. TooT represents the sound of a horn, ‘a sound which shocks you out of your current state to make you aware of a new situation, a new layer of conscience’ according to choreographer Veldman.

While the running time for TooT is 47 minutes and at times feels drawn out, Noces, flashes by in one of the shortest 27 minute periods ever experienced in dance. Stravinsky’s 1923 Les Noces, the original score of the stylized Russian peasant wedding ritual by Bronislava Nijinska, is the music for what becomes a twelve brides for twelve brothers celebration, as much a battle of the sexes, as a joining together in any of pretense of marital harmony. Barefoot men are in black suits while the female dancers are in various modern takes of bridal white tulle in contrast with their powerful angular movements. No quaking young virgins are these. The Pacific Chorale, and a small orchestra, sit in the dim back light of the stage adding dimension to the scene. It is powerfully irreverent dance to powerfully reverent music. The presence of the live (and meticulously rehearsed) musicians adds an essential dimension and strength to the performance creating a mesmerizing whole.

Pankov has created a powerful troupe dancing in its individual, very modern, idiom. Although in Los Angeles for only two days, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens will perform in York Pennsylvania, November 14, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, November 16 through 18, and will appear in yet unspecified locations in Arizona and California April 6 through 13, 2007. Any dance fan near one those places at those times will be in for a treat.

Karen Weinstein

Los Angeles, CA
Weinstein is a clinical psychologist who teaches in the medical school at UCLA. She also holds a master's degree in Urban Studies and has a strong interest in history and architecture, as well as the theater.