Winter arts guide

dance review

Canadian dance troupe does not rest on its past

Flamboyant gestures marked the performance by BJM / Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
Svetla Atanasova
Flamboyant gestures marked the performance by BJM / Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.

At 46 years and counting, BJM/Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal may be notable for its impressive longevity. But the program the internationally acclaimed Canadian troupe brought for its World Music/CRASHarts engagement at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre Friday night was anything but old hat, starting with the world premiere of Itzik Galili’s “Casualties of Memory.” The work opens with a mesmerizing slow motion play of light and shadow on two bodies in sculptural flux, connecting and disconnecting, limbs entwining, long lines softening into curves and spirals.

But once the music (Les Frères Grand) unleashes a burst of staccato percussion, there’s no turning back. From there it’s a busy, nearly non-stop blast of kinetic energy unfurled with a rigorous, tensile muscularity. Torsos undulate seductively. Hips roll and grind with in-your-face bravado. Arms ripple and coil, legs kick into great arcing slices that could be lethal if the timing by the company’s fabulous dancers wasn’t so dead on. They are both brilliant technicians and engagingly charismatic through lifts and throws, rebounding off one another before tumbling to the floor. All costumed in drab brownish tanks and briefs, they form an egalitarian community that comes together in the end for a kind of raucous primal celebration, egging each other on with claps and hollers.

Another work by the Israeli born Galili shows his Batsheva Dance Company roots. “O Balcão de Amor” is a rowdy light-hearted romp for a motley cast of colorful characters, from a slick guy in a suit to a tutu-ed prima donna to the nerdy guy in glasses, bow tie, and suspenders who opens the piece chasing after his moment in the spotlight (an adorable Alexander Hille). Despite a technical glitch necessitating a restart, this piece for the full company of 14 was a comic charmer. Music by Cuban bandleader Pérez Prado (known as “King of the Mambo”) fueled some impressive technical virtuosity seeded with flirtatious couplings, awkward missteps, flamboyant gestures, and pratfalls. Hille’s duet with Céline Cassone was a knockout, with push/pull partnering sending them both into the air and down onto the floor.

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Excerpts from the new “Dance Me,” conceived by company artistic director Louis Robitaille as a paean to the late Montréal-based musician/poet Leonard Cohen, showcased the company’s ballet jazz chops, beginning with a kind of edgy, mercurial tango by the work’s primary choreographer, Andonis Foniadakis. Tempestuous thrown movement with thrashing arms in much of the group choreography was broken by some dynamic solo interludes. But the most memorable sequence was choreographed by London-born Ihsan Rustem. In his duet to “Suzanne” for Cassone and Hille, the couple maintained a supple, sinuous connection through partnering that moved seamlessly from floor to air, where her arching body reached upward atop his outstretched arms.

BJM/Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal

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World Music/CRASHarts at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre. Friday night.

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.