Don’t let the name confuse you. Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal is neither a classical ballet company nor a jazz dance group.
Rather, the Canadian company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, specializes in a dazzling fusion of styles — performing innovative works by contemporary choreographers designed to showcase the dancers’ creativity, physicality and seemingly inexhaustible energy, said the company’s artistic director, Louis Robitaille.
On Sunday, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal will perform three eclectic creations by choreographers from across the globe.
“For the audience, a mixed program like this can allow them to discover different voices,” Robitaille said.
Founded in Quebec in 1972 by Geneviève Salbaing, Eva Von Gencsy and Eddie Toussaint, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal originally focused on jazz dance, which combines elements of ballet, Broadway and modern dance.
But by the time Robitaille arrived in 1998, fresh from dancing with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, the dance group was in a state of flux.
“It was a strange time for the company,” he said, noting that the group had gone through four different artistic directors in about as many years. “When there are so many changes like this you cannot have a clear vision. You lose the continuity of the work.
“I knew that we had to work to bring back the energy of the company, the stability of the com pany, and everything that goes with it,” he said. “That was a nice challenge to take.”
Rather than an homage to trends of the past, Robitaille wanted Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal to serve as “a mirror of what is going on in (today’s) dance world.
“To do so was to work with the new generation of creators. For me, those are the ones who are influencing the dance of today and the dance of tomorrow,” he said. “They have a lot of motivation. They are bringing all kinds of influences to dance.”
That focus on new and innovative performance pieces “suits the personality of the company,” Robitaille said, noting that Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal was once also a newcomer to the Canadian arts scene. “It was young. It was new. It was fresh. It was physical. It was high-energy.”
During the company’s 40th season, its collaborators have included Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton, Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti and half-Colombian half-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ocho.
Robitaille said he’s constantly on the lookout for talented, versatile new artists.
“First of all, you fall in love with the work of somebody, then you start to analyze it deeply,” he explained. “It’s a visceral reaction then it becomes a cerebral reaction. When those two are combined, then there’s a chance for something good to happen.”
Spanish-born choreographer Cayetano Soto created the first piece in Sunday’s show, the duet “Zero In On.” Robitaille described the seven-minute piece, set to music by avant-garde American composer Philip Glass, as a challenging, physically exacting duel.
Following “Zero In On” is “Night Box,” a 35-minute work by Chinese-Canadian choreographer Weng Wei Wong.
Inspired by the intensity of urban life, the piece combines contemporary ballet and street dance — depicting love, loss, sexuality and joy through a series of onstage interactions.
“The quest for each person, each human being, is to find somebody for a short time or somebody for a long time — but mainly to find a mate in the crazy rhythm of the city,” Robitaille said. “Night Box” captures “those little moments” as they unfold.
Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall, who’s based in Los Angeles, created “Harry,” the longest work of the night at 45 minutes.
“‘Harry’ is about conflict, but treated with a lot of humor and a lot of cynicism,” Robitaille said, evoking both internal turmoil and external struggle.
The theatrical ballet, set to a blend of jazz, Quebec folk music and traditional Israeli tunes, features dialogue mixed with movement.
According to Robitaille, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal’s anniversary program is designed to delight.
“When people come to our performance, usually they forget their problems for two hours,” the artistic director said. “They step out of the theater with stars in their eyes and big smiles.”
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