Ballets Jazz de Montréal was a huge hit at NextMove at the Prince two years ago, and they were back in February run with an even more impressive concert program. The Feb. 15 opening night was a near full house, on a somber day. Artistic director Louis Robitaille speaking to the crowd beforehand and acknowledging the sadness of the day and these “strange, ugly times’ we live in. And lose yourself “for a few moments” in the joy, motion, creativity and beauty of these dancers.” Robitaille presented two vastly different recent works from choreographer Itzik Galili and excerpts from a new work ‘Dance Me’ by choreographer Andonis Foniadakis.
Galili’s ‘Casualties of Memory’ unfolds as dancers Kennedy Kraeling and Yosmell Calderon’s limbs appear out of the darkness as they move into the half-lights and the atmospheric crystal vibes of music by Les Freres Grand with percussion master Joseph Khoury. The dancers’ sinuous sculptural movements slowly move over the stage, they entwine voluptuously and float lift sequences that keep evolving. The other dancers appear in a cascading line behind them. Suddenly a wall of percussive sound booms and the full ensemble flies into thrilling unison moves with Capoeira kicks, razor edge extensions, breakout solos, duets and inventive canon lines. The rhythmic bacchanal crescendos, the music stops, but The music stops, but Jeremy Coachman continues a frenzied solo calling his own moves until the rest of the company stares him off.
Later, Kraeling and Calderon are back for duet reprise and when she leaves, Calderon dances a spellbinding solo. A tall muscled dancer, his lyrical athleticism is spellbinding. The other dancers surround him and pound out the rhythms on small drums. Calderon’s shimmering technique- moving like mercury through martial arts/balletic contortions and torso arcs, at one point he flies from a full aerial split into a completely dropped 3rd position plie.
This work is a marathon at 35-minutes and toward the end the dancers start to vocalize and dance amok, playfully push each other around, show off like a secret tribe.
Andonis Foniadakis’ ‘Dance Me’ begins with voiceovers from the late, great poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen, depicted by one of the dancers at the back of the stage in half-light, wearing Cohen’s signature fedora, as the voice of Cohen is heard introducing some of his songs at a live concert. The excerpts from ‘Dance Me- the Musique of Leonard Cohen starts with ‘Steer You Away’ danced by Alexander Hille and Celine Cassone’s duet is an ethereal series of intimates lifts, one that ends with Cassone hanging over the front of Hille’s body, one leg loosely hooked on his neck. Hill locks into a plie position and Cassone perches on one thigh, their heads together and drawing us into their private world and intimacies of Cohen’s lyrics. They return with equally smoldering chemistry depicting Cohen’s famous ballade ‘Suzanne’ choreographed by Ihsan Rustem.
Next, ‘Boogie Street’ with the men just in black trousers is a lusty romp with Saska Pause Begin an object of desire who controls them. But it breaks out into a dance orgy with everyone piled on each other. The recorded tracks are from a Cohen concert, but ‘Marianne’ is sung live by Kennedy Kraeling and danced by Jeremy Coachman.
Between the songs, Mark Sampson remains onstage in equally dynamic quicksilver solos, perhaps an expression of Cohen’s passion as a composer and his existential relationship with the world. Sampson is a phantom dancer expressing an inner drive as he hurls himself around the stage.
‘O Balco de Amor’ is Galili’s tribute to his mother and her love of the music of bandleader Perez Prado and his Cuban big-band which Galili tells us in a filmed intro about creating this dance, his mother played from the 50s to the 70s.
Galili populates this dance with loony tune characters-The snotty fashion model, the nerd, the lounge guy, the gigolo, the ex-girlfriend, the never-girlfriend, the bi-guy, the street punk, the club kid, the backstage Johnny. Dance sketch comedy some mise-en-scenes and aside from the infectious music, flash moments of mambo, salsa, and lusty rhumba moves.
As fun as these characters are Galili’s scenario runs out of steam choreographically, but by that time, these are characters we will never forget as they dance out the question to Prado’s ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.’
Louis Robitaille’s approach to concert programming is anything but predictable or under glass. BJM’s artistry and esprit, not to mention the company’s roster of choreographers makes Ballets Jazz de Montréal among the most innovative contemporary troupes in the world right now.