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Dance Review

Les Ballets Jazz stays true to choreographer

Céline Cassone and Nathan Madden perform “Locked Up Laura,’’ a duet created for Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. Céline Cassone and Nathan Madden perform “Locked Up Laura,’’ a duet created for Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. (Christopher Duggan)
By Janine Parker
Globe Correspondent / July 3, 2010

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BECKET — Choreographers often talk about working with dancers who are willing to “serve’’ the choreography, rather than let their egos or inhibitions get in the way. But while dancers are the medium through which the steps emerge, the outcome can’t just be about the blank slate of flesh and blood; we must also feel the heartbeat that warms that flesh and pumps that blood.

The dancers of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, now performing at Jacob’s Pillow, must be a choreographer’s dream, because every single movement and moment feels true. Even the purposely awkward choreography — and there is plenty of that in this program — is rendered beautiful and wonderfully strange.

Aszure Barton’s “Les Chambres des Jacques,’’ like a long, dream-filled night, is made up of many moods and nonlinear story lines. It’s erotic, playful, and erratic, and the musical score — klezmer, folk songs, baroque arias — is masterfully chosen. Barton’s choreographic sensibility is uncanny: In another’s hands, a work like “Jacques’’ might have fallen apart into disarray; instead it’s a crazy vaudeville that keeps us agog and entertained. And finally, moved.

It’s also filled with that neurotic interior voice that can stop us from pursuing our dreamscapes once we’re awake. A woman steps out of the crowd into a hell-bent solo, interrupted like a shameful slap when she meets the ground unexpectedly. Men pursue women, women’s hands slinkily trace up and down their own bodies, but the men frequently dance with their hands in front of their crotches, calling attention to, yet also hiding, desire. Indeed, in “Jacques’’ the men especially seem to struggle with the mores of civilized society, going to great lengths to avoid brutishly grabbing what they want. They crawl after a woman humiliatingly, their heads lowered to the floor, pelvises and torsos straight-angled, derrieres pointing to the ceiling.

Though much of this is comic, Barton doesn’t laugh at the characters, instead lovingly nudging them toward their passions, be they kinky or common. Enjoy, she seems to say. Love and be loved, and dance like crazy fools.

“Jacques’’ and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet “Locked Up Laura’’ were created for the company, and it’s hard to imagine another one performing them with the same virtuosic physicality and artistic guts.

The title character of “Laura,’’ danced by Céline Cassone, is a performer manipulated by forces outside herself, including a man (Nathan Madden), a floppy tutu that he pushes on her, boxing her in, and the disembodied voice of a stage manager, often calling her onstage. Cassone splits her body in two, her upper body slumped like a rag doll, her feet and legs piercing the floor or air as if seeking solid ground. Madden drapes, tosses, or even kicks Cassone into one striking image after another. Holding her by the back of her armpits, he circles her around, her legs flung open in a huge arc, her pointes just whispering on the floor, like an angel ice-skating. The duet ends hopefully: Cassone now stands behind Madden and manipulates his arms and head, then walks away, languidly but decisively kicking the tutu off.

Ochoa’s “Zip Zap Zoom’’ further explores the idea of individual will, but in the more fantastic and occasionally creepy world of online games. Aided by Javier Velazquez’s projections, a giant cyber world is created in which eight dancers are avatars prodded by computer commands. Though at times hilarious, the idea of humans being literally controlled by technology is disturbing. But once again the Montrealers dive in with everything they’ve got, and with Ochoa’s satisfying ending — the images on the “computer screen’’ crumble into thousands of tinkling pieces, and in their place, Pollock-like splatterings of paint appear — humanity trumps all. Game over.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@hotmail.com

LES BALLETS JAZZ DE MONTRÉAL

At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, Wednesday (repeats through tomorrow). Tickets: $58-$63. 413-243-0745, www.jacobspillow.org