If it’s chic artistry you desire, look no further than Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. This urbane ensemble from the north heated up the theater at MASS MoCA this weekend with a showing of three ultra-hip and ultra-stunning dances by choreographers rarely seen in these parts.
The program, once again, bore out Les Ballets Jazz’s superior brand. But it also revealed the dancers as fine interpreters of extreme styles of physicality. Consider the opening piece, “Zero In On” by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto. Set to the hypnotic whir of Philip Glass, the duet featured Celine Cassone and Kevin Delaney contorting their loose joints in a way that commanded all eyes to watch.
In flesh-colored leotards and knee-high socks, the dancers jerked and then locked their arms and legs into awkward and seemingly untenable positions. While poised, with a bent leg cocked at hip level and crooked arms hovering over their heads, their fingers, like claws, fluttered as if running across a piano.
Often, the two followed each other closely. When they came together, the slim and supple Cassone and the solid and muscular Delaney made for a sharp looking pair. She was liquid in his arms for a brief moment, and then both would snap back into their jerky, robotic cool. All this was in contrast to the music, which rolled along in the usual smooth as Glass groove.
Equally wonderful, but slightly flawed, was “Harry.” Choreographed by American-Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall, the piece followed a young man’s trials and tribulations with women, war and death. With Youri de Wilde in the title role, this black comedy portrayed life as one unavoidable conflict after the next, brought on by gods who are insensitive to humanity.
In addition to dancing their frustration, which included Harry trying to find the ideal woman by matching his cooking pot with their lids, the ensemble of dancers voiced their dim views about life in mini-skits. Those took place over Harry’s dead body, in which the dancers in dark glasses, lamented about the pointlessness of striving.
The most striking moments came in the group dances. Gesturing with their hands and kicking their legs, these sections were frantic pleas as much as they were useless exorcisms. The battle for love and survival raged on.
Those scenes were so moving that it was often difficult for Marshall to pull the audience back from their own brink of despair and return them to levity, thus the aforementioned flaw.
What was perfect, however, was Marshall’s use of music. He drew from 1940s tunes from Tommy Dorsey’s band and the Andrew Sisters. He punctuated that feel-good drive with Israeli folk and traditional music in a surprisingly powerful pairing.
The program was rounded out by Wen Wei Wang’s “Night Box,” a shadowy portrait of city nightlife. This rhythmic dance, inspired by club life, put a spotlight on the human entanglements — some satisfying, others chilling.
Dancer Morgane Le Tiec, with her cap of white hair, was particularly chilly in a duet and trio, in which she was both a seductress and an outcast. Cassone with Brett Taylor topped off the dance with a tender and hopeful duet that elicited cheers.