What’s in a name? Some years ago, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal rebranded itself [bjm_danse] in an apparent attempt to look hipper, snappier, and perhaps more international. But the company, now trying out the acronym BJM, has always been hip and snappy, and as for international, one need only look at the globe-trotting choreographers of the three pieces it brought to the Institute of Contemporary Art Thursday, under the auspices of World Music/CRASHarts. Cayetano Soto was born in Barcelona but now lives in Munich. Wen Wei Wang moved from his native China to Canada. And Barak Marshall, who was born in Los Angeles, divides his time between that city and Tel Aviv.
Soto’s work was last seen here in 2011, when Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performed his “Uneven” at the Tsai Performance Center. “Zero In On” (2010), to music by Philip Glass, is a less ambitious work, a seven-minute duet. Dancing in front of a diagonally positioned light pole and on a reduced stage, Kevin Delaney and flame-haired Céline Cassone stretch and swirl in unison, looking like giant spiders, Delaney circling Cassone and finally grabbing her before they separate again. The pair’s moves are reminiscent of ice dancing; it’s eye-catching but not memorable.
At 40 minutes each, Wang’s “Night Box” (2012) and Marshall’s “Harry” (2012) are more substantial. “Night Box” is a depiction of urban life; its dancers alternately seem to be gyrating in a nightclub and hunting as a street gang, sometimes with black-and-white cityscapes projected behind them. They’re most striking as a group, swaying like parts of a single organism, or marching single file, hands upraised, across the stage. Wang’s solos, duets (both single-sex and mixed), and trios are less distinctive; the concluding duet between Cassone and Brett Taylor is like a more lyrical version of “Zero In On.”
With its very gestural vocabulary (Marshall is obviously a fan of the late Pina Bausch), “Harry” is more serious, and more fun. Like the denizens of “Night Box,” Harry (Youri De Wilde) is looking for love, but he’s in a wacky world that morphs between war zone (with gunfire and, at one point, a large red flag) and battle of the sexes. He keeps getting killed and placed under a white sheet while the mourners debate philosophy and politics. In a hilarious Cinderella riff, he’s given a big stockpot, and women with stockpot lids line up, each hoping to have the one that fits. The red balloons the dancers bring on look comic, but when they’re popped, people fall down dead. The equally wacky soundtrack ranges from the Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” to Maria Callas’s “O mio babbino caro” to the Warsaw Village Band. Eventually Harry’s true love (Cassone) appears with the right lid and everyone parties down to Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen.” I think Bausch would have loved it. I know I did.