Making its Portland debut Thursday night as the opening to the 13th season of the White Bird Dance Series
, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal
held up its reputation as a “feel good company.”
Under the direction of Louis Robitaille, the Canadian company “explores the creative side of contemporary trends, yet is still firmly committed to classical aesthetics.” Thursday's performance did just that. Drawing on a base of classical elements of music, choreography and costume, the pieces take a contemporary, creative and often funny approach to comment on society
. More striking yet, the company's talented dancers supplement classical training and technique with their unique personalities and acting skills
to bring extra energy and emotion to their repertoire.
The performance opens with Mauro Bigonzetti's "Rossini Cards." Set to the music of 19th-century opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, costuming alternates between black suits to near-nudity
in skin colored undergarments while the choreography fluctuates between graceful elegance to crude gesturing
. The result is a comment on social norms and human interaction. At a candelabra- and goblet-adorned dinner table, the dancers make precise hand gestures, literally “going through the motions” until they begin to pull at their hair and gesture wildly in one another's faces, getting at the reality and emotions behind the austere façade of high society.
After intermission came a beautiful duet, "Locked Up Laura," choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This performance took the place of Cayetano Soto's "Zero In On,” which was set to make its North American premier in Portland, but was unable to be performed
as one of the duet's dancers, a Cuban named Alfredo Garcia Gonzalez, was denied entry to the U.S.
The night ended with Aszure Barton's "Les Chambres des Jacques," a fast-paced frenzy set to folk music that is part Renaissance courtship dance, part animalistic mating ritual, and all sexual
. At one point a man crawls at the heels of flirtatious young maid, drunk with love, lust, alcohol, or maybe something more psychedelic—the hysteria is punctuated with manic laughs and screams from the dancers themselves as if the whole thing is drug-induced debauchery.
Images: Photos of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal performing "Rossini Cards" and "Les Chambres des Jacques" by William Hébert, courtesy of White Bird.