Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal

August 17, 2005

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Stijn Celis’
Photo by Roland Lorente, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA

August 17–21, 2005

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


This recently revitalized company, back by popular demand after last summer, showed us that Europe is still producing wild and witty choreographers. The ensemble choreography of both works were somewhere in the neighborhood of Kylián, Preljocaj, and Bausch, and so complex and textured that it tended to overshadow the soloists.

, by Didy Veldman, who is Dutch, is set in a circus milieu with benches in a ring (set and costumes by Miriam Buether). A lone man sits forlornly on the ringside seat; another enters, then another. The nifty partnering on and off the benches gathers into a storm of activity by 15 dancers. With its clown-white faces, bizarre hairdos, and aura of pleasant wackiness, the piece reveals an obvious nouveau cirque influence. Even the silliest episode, in which the dancers shoot each other with water pistols, has wit and craft. The quick, subtle moves in the partnering, like moving an elbow three inches to the left or scooting to avoid a slicing arm, lend a momentum, an accumulation of detail, as the set transforms from curved benches to barricades to see-saws. Everything keeps moving, ricocheting between fun and bleakness.

After TooT, one longs to see the dancers’ faces. But Noces (2002) does not satisfy this wish. Flemish choreographer Stijn Celis has put them in whiteface. The 12 women wear clumps of tulle and white caps with cloth braids (referring to Bronislava Nijinska’s original Les Noces from 1923) and the 12 men are in black suits (costumes by Catherine Voeffray). The choreography, representing a peasant wedding ritual, is more patterned and ordered, but also more elemental and forceful than TooT.

The women form a formidable phalanx, advancing toward the audience with hip-jutting stomps as though declaring they are in control of their own sexuality. The anticipation of sexual union combined with ambivalence about losing one’s independence make for a fraught aggressiveness—and brilliantly choreographed partnering. Finally, during the last notes of Stravinsky’s gloriously irregular music, each man slows down and carries a woman off. It’s a relief, not only because the women have stopped resisting, but because it’s the only slow section. But to these eyes, it would have been more of a relief to see at least one partnership in which the woman carried the man. Until this point, the women—sassy and sexy—have been equal to the men. See www.lesgrandsballets.qc.ca.