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Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal's scintillating tour ignites NextMove series

by Lewis J Whittington
January 20, 2016
Prince Theater
1412 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 422-4580
Louis Robitaille, artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal programmed premiere works for the troupe’s return to Randy Swartz’s NextMove series now in their new home at the Prince Theater. Robitaille's formidable pool of international choreographers is one reason why this company is one of the most creatively diverse and exciting troupes on the planet.

The roster of 16 dancers have dynamic ensemble drive and all are distinct personalities onstage. You don’t have to understand anything about dance content or concept, they just draw you in with their fluid artistry.

It is also Robitaille’s ongoing dialogue of ballet, jazz and international lexicons that move the company in many different aesthetic directions.

Choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, founder and resident choreographer of the stellar Brazilian company Grupo Corpo,"Rouge" is a mosaic of indigenous movement inspired by Amerindian traditional dance language and music.

In it, a cluster of dancers in ceremonial dress moved through a mist pulsing like heartbeats across the stage. They then carved out forward and backward configurations, thrusting their chests out and throwing their heads back.

The ballet is set to an engulfing soundscape by The Grand Brothers. Tribal rhythmic interplay with natural sounds of water, birds, wolves and a basso wind growl conjured earthy mysticism.

The rhythms became more frenzied and the costumes, adorned with symbolic accessories, suggested a prelude to a war dance. Sensuality then seemed to take over when a lead couple dressed with leather armbands, performed a lusty, primal fandango. What a timeless universal message - perhaps carrying the timeless message to make love, not war.

"Mono Lisa" by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili followed. It was a smoldering duet danced by Celine Cassone and Philadelphia native Mark Francis Caserta. Scored to flinty music by the choreographer and Thomas Hofs, as a metronomic soundtrack itignited flirty, antagonistic balletics between the dancers. Galili is a former dancer with Batsheva Dance in Israel, he built chemistry in the choreography with intricate lifts that kept evolving and required jaw-dropping flexibility and unfussy bravura from both dancers. Caserta got his professional start at Eleone Dance Theater, then moved to Complexions in New York before joining BJM. By the reception he got from his hometown fans, this was obviously another perfect fit.

Catharsis and survival was a theme in Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis’ "KOSMOS," the concert’s 35-minute marathon work that just grabbed you by the throat and would’t let go. The propulsion of Julien Tarride's score fueled triple time unison movement in group sections that gave way to even higher intensity solos, duets and trios.

The dancers were dressed in silky black togs and tunics. Later the men were bare-chested and the women were in dance bras. Foniadakis’ movement aesthetic required sustained precision, immediacy and abandon. Among the many highlights was Guillaume Michaud’s tour de force solo that reached a fevered crescendo with the ensemble in a silhouetted tableau against a milky blue light field. It was a stunning, life-affirming coda.

Both "Rouge" and "Kosmos" looked like masterworks on this company. For their curtain call the dancers symbolically "put on their red shoes and danced the blues" in tribute to David Bowie. His song "Let's Dance" flooding the theater with memories.
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