Ballet dancers who seem to do it all

“Kosmos” was performed for a healthy 35 minutes and kept the audience entertained.
“Kosmos” was performed for a healthy 35 minutes and kept the audience entertained.(Raphaelle Bob Garcia)

Calling yourself a jazz ballet company could be a sign of indecision about your identity. In the case of BJM/Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, however, artistic director Louis Robitaille seems to be saying his dancers can do it all. That was certainly the message they delivered in the three pieces they performed Saturday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, under the auspices of World Music/CRASHarts.

"Closer" is a 17-minute duet set to Philip Glass's "Mad Rush" by Benjamin Millepied, a former New York City Ballet principal and the Paris Opera Ballet's new director. The premiere, in 2006, was danced by BJM's Céline Cassone and NYCB principal Sébastien Marcovici, with piano; here the music is recorded, and Cassone is joined by Alexander Hille.


"Mad Rush" is written in segments, and Millepied's choreography follows suit. The first A section finds Cassone clinging to Hille and being swung in a variety of lifts. The B sections are stormier and more agitated, and the lifts become more extravagant. As the A music returns, Cassone and Hille separate momentarily, and when they reconnect, after circling each other, she grows more independent, and they dance as equals. For the final D section they go to the ground, entwining their limbs in a suggestive way, then lying side by side seeming to fall asleep.

Just as the harmonic changes in Glass's music are subtle, so are the emotional nuances in Millepied's setting. Cassone and Hille seem transported and in a trance, and they do not finish far from where they began.

BJM gave Andonis Foniadakis's "Kosmos" its world premiere just a week ago in Colorado. Set to a pounding, lyrical score by Julien Tarride, it could as easily be titled "Zombies in Outer Space," since the 11 dancers do things no human body should be able to. There is no overt narrative, but motifs are repeated as the black streetwear gradually starts to come off. At the end, lights are projected onto the rear curtain and the performers' bodies, and they become dancing stars.


The closer, Rodrigo Pederneiras's "Rouge" was also new, enjoying its world premiere. Another high-energy work, it pays tribute to Native peoples in North and South America. (Pederneiras choreographs for Brazil's Grupo Corpo.) The score by Paul Baillargeon and the Grand Brothers includes crashing waves, whooshing winds, honking geese, and throat singing. As in "Kosmos," sexual violence abounds. Pederneiras is less flamboyant than Foniadakis, and his tribal rituals are more self-conscious than those of Foniadakis's urban jungle. But "Kosmos" and "Rouge" complement each other, and though each runs a healthy 35 minutes, neither wears out its welcome.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at