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Theater & art

Dance Review

O Vertigo Danse propelled by a relentless beat

Members of O Vertigo Danse perform “La Vie Qui Bat (The Beat of Life),” set to Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” at Jacob’s Pillow.

Karli Cadel/Jacob’s Pillow Dance

Members of O Vertigo Danse perform “La Vie Qui Bat (The Beat of Life),” set to Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” at Jacob’s Pillow.

BECKET — How perceptive of Walter Boudreau, the director of the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec, to suggest that Ginette Laurin, the founding director of O Vertigo Danse, choreograph a piece to Steve Reich’s iconic composition “Drumming.” The resulting 1999 work, “La Vie Qui Bat (The Beat of Life)” — performed this week at Jacob’s Pillow, with Boudreau conducting — is, like its music, both repetitive and exultant, the continuously streaming movement a physical prose poem whose dynamics wax and wane.

Reminiscent of and in some ways the daughter of Lucinda Childs’s seminal 1979 “Dance” (which is set to a Philip Glass score), the nine dancers in “La Vie Qui Bat” are given a fairly small and simple vocabulary with which patterns and phrases are layered. A straightforward restlessness drives the work forward. In Childs’s piece, the dancers are coolly elegant, fleet denizens of the city; Laurin’s movement style is warmly weighted, casual, often pedestrian, the performers earthier country dwellers.

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The hourlong work is rich in partnering, the duets just as often same-sex as the more usual male-female. The strong women catch and propel the men with equanimity. Gravity seems embraced, rather than a force to be reckoned with and triumphed over: Dancers push off into jumps or pitch themselves into lifts with deliberate thickness; landings are (relatively) heavy. Motifs include supported cabrioles and parallel tours en l’air, and many of the lifts are accented with flickering grasshopper-like legs. Sometimes the dancers etch out mysterious yet seemingly friendly gestures with their arms and hands, as if aliens welcoming us to their planet.

There are some softly whimsical moments. In one lovely duet the men move at first with a slow plushness, as if underwater. There is a rolling, seamless quality to their lifts, the two slipping over and under each other without palpable effort. Another section now conjures a dreamy windstorm, a group of women seeming to lean bravely against the current or arch back with it. Conversely, throughout the dance, there are no smooth transitions between phrases and groupings: Dancers enter and exit with a nonchalant swagger.

Maintaining fidelity to the church of minimalism, there is no narrative here: Occasionally a vague tension seems to build but the dancers shrug off the enigma mid-thought and move on. Although there are some costume changes — tops and pants are swapped out or taken off here and there, a dancer will enter barefoot, only to return again shod — the sartorial adjustments don’t signify a shift of mood in the performers or the onset of a plot, but there is something subtly wry about the whole business. Overall, a kind of geniality permeates “La Vie,” the dancers’ expressions serene beneath mops dyed a cheeky reddish-pink.

The 12 excellent musicians — one flutist, two vocalists, and nine percussionists — create a kind of living scenery from their setup on stage right. The players weave in and out, not only among each other’s meters, but also in and around the group as they switch instruments or positions.

What a treat this live music is, perhaps more so with a piece like “Drumming,” with its often barely perceptible tonal shifts: Crescendos build dramatically, but at a snail’s pace. Was it the music, therefore, or the dance that caused at least seven audience members to exit during the piece on opening night? Or was it simply unwillingness to commit their senses to the experience? I guess one viewer’s enjoyment is another’s eternity; for me, though unadorned, “La Vie” is absorbing, worth the effort of attentiveness, and deserving of, at the very least, an audience’s respectfulness.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@hotmail.com.
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