Tag Archives: Leonard Cohen

Les Ballets Jazz De Montreal Premieres An Instant Classic

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
Merrill Audiorium
Feb. 8, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Those fortunate enough to be in Merrill Auditorium Thursday night witnessed one of the first presentations of “Casualties of Memory,” premiered by Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal (BJM) earlier this month in Boston. With choreography by Itzik Galili to a percussion score by Les Frères Grand, it is destined to become an instant classic of modern dance. Thanks once again to Portland Ovations for bringing it here so fast.

The ballet is long, taking up all of the first half of Thursday night’s program, but the spectacular drumming by Joseph Khoury would carry the piece all by itself, even if it were not matched by the equally astounding dancing on stage. (Disclaimer: I used to drive to Manhattan from college in Easton, Pa. to hear drum riffs by Gene Krupa at Eddie Condon’s. Some at Merrill thought the primitive percussion was overpowering, but I thought it was just right.)

The ballet attempts, quite successfully, to blur the distinctions between genders, starting with patriarchal, male-dominated postures and progressing to what Freud called polymorphous perversity, in which the movements, lifts and postures of the dancers transcend distinctions between male and female.

And what postures they are. One would never guess that the human anatomy had so many possibilities, their transformations executed so smoothly that the changing patterns took on the nature of a kaleidoscope.

When the dancers lined up, the series of poses from left to right (or vice versa) seemed like mysterious runes or hieroglyphics, spelling out a prophecy if one could only decipher them. At all times, the coordination of the dancers was uncanny.

The lighting, in this and the ballets that followed, was a member of the company in itself, emphasizing aspects down to individual muscle groups, isolating or uniting related actions, and establishing contrasts that highlighted everything. Simple—three rows of spotlights in perspective— effective, “and cheap,” as the choreographer pointed out in a video clip.

The next two ballets were completely different, but equally exciting in their own ways. The first was a bitter-sweet salute to Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen, with songs taking the company through the seasons in Montreal. A pas de deux to “Suzanne,” (1966) may not have “touched your perfect body with my mind,” but came close, in the most Romantic and classically influenced sequence of the evening.

The final ballet, “O Balcāo De Amor,” ended the program on a humorous note, depicting various loving or battling pairs (sometimes both) in a Cuban nightclub, to primarily Mamba music..

It is a complete comedia del arte, without a single word necessary to identify the stock characters, from the tutu-wearing ingenue to the unsuccessful lounge lizard in suspenders. Some of the dance moves were hysterical, such as the “worm’ executed on the side instead of the stomach. flopping like a fish out of water, or a Mermaid dragging her tight-skirted tail up the beach. One gets so carried away by the stories as to forget the superb quality of the dancing that depicts them.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

BalletX Shows the Best of Both Worlds

Merrill Auditorium
Oct. 20, 2016
by Christopher Hyde

BalletX, which came to Merrill Auditorium Thursday under the auspices of Portland Ovations, presented one of the most unusual and satisfying dance programs in recent memory. (Disclaimer: the company originated in Philadelphia, where I was born.)

They had to overcome two prejudices of most balletomanes: combining classical ballet and modern dance, and the use (primarily) of popular rather than classical music. Both objections vanished in the face of the dancers’ enormous talent and energy, and the originality of the choreography.

The music was recorded, which robs the performance of some of the spontaneity made possible by a conductor, but the styles were so individual —from Klezmer to Bach— that it would have been impossible to produce their variety with one orchestra.

If I had to characterize BalletX in one word, it would be “erotic.” But the appeal goes much deeper than that. The poses, lifts and steps, no matter how intricate, elaborate, and athletic, stem from the natural motions of the human body. They are real life raised to a higher power, and the audience can almost feel them.

Some claim that piano playing ability improves when one’s muscles subconsciously imitate those of a pianist on stage. The same thing happens with BalletX. The audience walked more gracefully as they left the theater.

The choreographers, different for each of the four short ballets on the program, know their fine arts. There were instant snapshots of Matisse dancers, Delvaux’s mysterious women, the loneliness of Edward Hopper, and the hieratic poses of Will Barnet. They are also very conscious of the changing patterns of negative space. Multiple hand and arm gestures sometimes unfolded like the petals of a flower under time-lapse photography.

The first ballet, “Slump,” is described as “a wild, aggressive dance about courtship and the instinctual rituals of mating, set to klezmer, jazz and mambo music.” It was all of the above, and more, perfectly matched to the unique mood of klezmer.

My favorite ballet of the night was an elaborate semi-classical pas de deux, by Chloe Felecia and Richard Villaverde, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It reminded me of the line from Arnold’s “Dover Beach”—“Love, let us be true to one another…” giving each other strength in bad times.

“Gran Partita,” set to classical music by Berg, Mozart, Bach and Monteverdi, replaced “Delicate Balance,” which illustrates pattern in chaos through the use of contemporary music. It also emphasized the company’s skill at setting large unified patterns, like a living kaleidoscope.

The final work on the program, “The Last Glass,” explored the joys and tribulations of everyday street life, among them boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl loses boy. At least the star-crossed lovers were reunited during many enthusiastic curtain calls.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.