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Review 1, 12-9: Beat Out that Rhythm
Les Ballets Jazz in One Note
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr
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NEW YORK -- Making its
Joyce Theater debut (December 2-7), Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
got off to a puzzling start with five swinging cocoons in too-dim
light: the first section of "Sous le rythme, je..." by Patrick Delcroix.
After this irritatingly irrelevant prolog, things got, literally,
less obscure. Five women in long black skirts, mounted on a high
platform at the rear beat earnestly on bongo drums, wood blocks,
rain sticks, and the like.
Their rhythms doggedly
matched the barrage of athletic, stamina-defying, joint-punishing
movement of five men in black Speedos: Paul Taylor meets Pilobolus.
They snaked their bodies across the ground like break-dancers, back
flipped on one hand, split their legs overhead while balanced on
their hands, and barrel turned in mid-air. Then the guys sat in
a circle and slapped the floor and themselves making percussion
for the women's sensuous, hip-swaying line dance, aloft. Finally,
all ten got together in five couples doing identical duets. Aside
from the self-accompaniment gimmick, what's the point of the piece?
"Short Works: 24" by
the company's resident choreographer Crystal Pite took a fresh idea
-- snippets of dancing, some not even developed enough to qualify
as studies -- but carried it at least a third further than its interest
could sustain. Clever motifs and quirky physical textures, some
of them physical gems, vanished into blackouts after less than a
minute or two each, leaving us wanting more of each but fewer of
True, explosive solos
by sinewy, quicksilver Eric J. Miles, lithe and limber Francine
Liboiron, and sharp, crisp Eric Beauchesne would likely have flagged,
had any of them continued longer. A twitchy little duet for Tara
Dyberg and Youri de Wilde did recur -- delightfully both times.
Five guys in stocking caps bounced up and down and grunted, drawing
laughs; later five women in blond wigs echoed them. Dyberg and Liboiron
tiptoed across the stage, whispering their counts; Robert Knowles
in a bear suit lumbered into the wings from his spot of light (lighting
by Pite and Daniel Ranger).
Number XXII, a passage
for full company that had dancers falling in and out of line in
unexpected combinations, was striking, but it came too late; we'd
already been lulled into indifference by 21 blackouts without punch
There oughta be a law
against using Bobby McFerrin's music for dances any more. Like the
now infamous Pachelbel canon, its familiarity detracts from our
seeing whatever's happening. Too bad, because Shawn Hounsell has
devised some interesting movement for his "Circle Songs," set to
the eponymous McFerrin music. In the first part, dancers wrapped
their T-shirts around their wrists and manipulated each other with
them. But here, as in virtually the entire repertoire of this energetic
troupe, the relentless matching of movement to musical accents and
inflections robbed the piece of tension. When at the end, a woman
sitting on a man's shoulders obscured her face with her T-shirt,
we were left hanging.
One could have easily
gotten the impression that the five choreographers of the five dances
on the overstuffed program were competing with each other for cleverness
of movement invention, but their expressive intentions -- other
than showing off what these remarkably fluid, muscularly taut dancers
can do -- remained less apparent than the company's consistently
A short solo, "clin
d'oeil," choreographed by Jason Shipley-Holmes to music by Gerard
Levesque and skillfully executed by Robert Rubinger, consisted of
a series of acrobatic tricks: half gymnastics, half hip-hop. It
served as a preamble to the finale, Mia Michaels's "No Strings Attached."
Set to a peppy original score by Albert Sterling Menendez, the dancers
clearly loved doing its full-bodied dancing in the improvisational
spirit of jazz.
Lourdes Gracia, Neelanthi Vadivel, Edgar Zendejas, Beauchesne, Rubinger,
and de Wilde flew into each other's arms in non-stop quick encounters;
men picked up women and tossed them into the waiting arms of others;
everybody darted joyously back and forth in a well-crafted, witty
stream. 'No Strings,' the only ballet that allowed the dancers --
and us -- to enjoy fully their juicy, deliciously sensuous, go-for-broke
energy, is the kind of dance of which we'd like to see more from
a troupe with "Jazz" in its name.
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