Tuesday, October 6th, 2015 12:00 PM
DANCECleveland and The University of Akron are strong and frequent collaborators. The two organizations–which will receive $5 million from Knight Foundation to fund the creation of the National Center for Choreography–teamed up to bring Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal to Akron, Ohio last week.
During a busy, weeklong residency at the university that culminated in a performance at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on campus, company members from Les Ballets more › Jazz worked with dance students on ballet technique in a series of master classes. I had the chance to watch one such session for upper-level students, led by Ballet Master Cyrille de la Barre. He guided students through warm-up and stretch exercises at the barre that are much like those that the professional dancers do during company classes. He also showed them some center work that included dance phrases that were reminiscent of the full company. The inclusion of hand-played drums in place of the piano at times helped convey the sense of rhythmic movement that de la Barre was going for.
Cyrille de la Barre, ballet master of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, instructing dance students from The University of Akron. Photo by Roger Durbin.
Aside from the academic context, the schedule included opportunities for company dancers to interact informally with students, such as during a meet-and-greet reception. Speaking with me via telephone prior to his visit, Louis Robitaille, artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, said that he and his dancers would also meet with students over lunch, just to chat. The artistic director said he also intended to talk to students about his job as head of a company and what he looks for in a dancer.
Besides sessions organized around dance students, the company held its own classes and rehearsals for the concert performance. They are at work on something new, a duet, and full rehearsals of the piece continued while on campus.
To conclude a week with such a robust schedule, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal had to perform. On Sunday, Oct. 4, the company presented three works: "Rouge" (2014), a commissioned work done to original music by brothers Sylvain and Dominique Grand and choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras; "Closer" (2006) by Benjamin Millepied, a short but lovely pas de deux that was gifted to Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal; and "Kosmos" (2015), a longer, 35-minute commissioned piece choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis.
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal performing "Closer" by Benjamin Millepied. Photo courtesy of DANCECleveland.
"Kosmos," Robitaille said, is a "killer," for it requires a lot of stamina from the dancers. You can view a video clip of parts of "Kosmos" here to see how much the dancers rely on big, expansive movements–an influence that Robitaille says stems from his own days as a dancer. Given the thematic hustle-and-bustle of urban existence that is at the center of the work, this is a performance that calls for speed as much as grandeur. In the vivid words of reviewer Steve Sucato writing for Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper, the pace is "sadistically fast." (Sucato's assessment of the overall performance was that it "elicited euphoria.")
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal has as a stated goal to "provoke emotions through contemporary dance." In response to a question about that, Robitaille commented that dance can be utterly expressive, for "dance has no language barrier." Even when a work is an abstract ballet–and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal has several in its repertoire–it still can produce emotional reactions, he added. Mission accomplished.
Monday, October 5th, 2015 12:00 PM
AKRON, Ohio -- Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, dance's cool kids from up north with hairstyles to match, capped a week-long residency at the University of Akron with an exemplary triple-bill of contemporary ballet that elicited various states of euphoria.
Presented by DanceCleveland and school's dance program, the production Sunday at E.J. Thomas Hall opened with "Rouge," a 34-minute work from 2014 by Rodrigo Pederneiras, resident choreographer of the Brazilian more › dance theater troupe Grupo Corpo.
Set to an atmospheric original score by The Grand Brothers that conjured up images of indigenous tribes and rain forests, the choreography for "Rouge" employed a variation on the artist's signature movement language of foot stomps, hops and hip-sinking shuffles found in so many of Grupo Corpo's popular works like "21" and "Bach."
BJM's women costumed in Native American-style dresses adorned with Aztec-like symbols and its men in pants and armbands began to slowly move to the sounds of tribal chanting and nature sounds. Soon those sounds were replaced with the thundering of drums that sent the dancers cascading into a series of feet-shuffling and body-undulating movement phrases that were uniquely mesmerizing.
"Rouge's" best moment came in a sexually-charged duet between petite, red-haired dancer Celine Cassone and her partner Mark Francis Caserta. Lifted, pushed and pulled suggestively, Cassone was at once submissive and aggressive with Caserta, who oozed machismo in the rousing, animalistic duet.
The mood then shifted with Paris Opera director Benjamin Millepied's sublime "Closer" (2006). Set to composer Philip Glass' swirling "Mad Rush," the delicate 17-minute pas de deux performed by Cassone and Alexander Hille moved like a light breeze through a window, softly billowing curtain sheers on the way to kissing your face with soothing grace.
The adroitly danced pas de deux -- filled with cradled holds, fainting dips and supple back-bends -- drifted along with Glass's piano music and repeatedly built to crescendos, only to quiet and begin again.
The stirring program concluded with "Kosmos," a new work by rising star Andonis Foniadakis. The 35-minute work set to rumbling drum music by Julien Tarride was inspired by the frenetic bustle of daily life.
Performing at a sadistically fast pace, BJM's dancers blazed through fitful and relentless choreography dense with flailing arm movements, jumps, roundhouse kicks and falls. If the character Hilarion in classical ballet's "Giselle" were forced to dance to death in present time, it would surely look like this. The stamina-busting choreography was something to marvel at for its sheer creativity and exhilarating brilliance.
The final section of "Kosmos'" gave both the dancers and the audience a breather as the stage went momentarily dark only to be illuminated by a star field of white circles that covered it and the dancers. The troupe's dancers then slowly formed classical ballet group tableaus that could have represented the formation of constellations.
It had been a decade since BJM's last visit to Northeast Ohio. Let's hope it doesn't take another for this sensational globetrotting company to return.
The Plain Dealer, Steve Sucato
RELATED COMPANY: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 12:00 PM
The University of Akron dance program has an international flair this week as the company Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal takes over all of the school's dance classes and will have open rehearsals and master classes during a weeklong residency.
It will culminate in Sunday's 3 p.m. performance at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Artistic Director Louis Robitaille, speaking by phone from Montreal, Quebec, said his 15-member company is made up of dancers from more › Canada, the United States, France and Brazil. The ballet troupe, which intertwines modern and contemporary styles with jazz and hip hop, has not performed in Ohio during Robitaille's 17-year tenure.
"Dance does not have any language barriers. The art itself should be open to the world, to share, communicate," said Robitaille, who describes BJM as a fusion dance company rooted in classical ballet.
The Akron program will feature the pas de deux Closer by French choreographer Benjamin Millipied, husband of movie star Natalie Portman. Robitaille said the dance is very special because BJM dancer Celine Cassone, for whom the dance was originally created, is performing it again. She had originally done the dance as a special project with Millipied in 2006.
"When I saw it [the original dance] I fell in love with the duet," said Robitaille, who asked permission from Millipied for BJM to perform the piece with American company member Alexander Hille for its 40th anniversary season four years ago. It has been included in BJM's repertoire ever since.
"This duet is still living through Celine so many years after the creation," Robitaille said.
Also on the program are two BJM commissions: Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras' 2014 Rouge and Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis' 2015 Kosmos. The former was created as a tribute to the First Nation, including throat singing and sounds of waves, wind, wild geese and thunder. Inspiration came from both North American indigenous peoples and the complicated percussive rhythms of South America.
Pederneiras brought it all together with the choreography:
"He was greatly and is still greatly influenced by the aboriginal movement gestures … of South America," Robitaille said.
At the other extreme, Kosmos is a dance about "human beings trapped in this nonsense of productivity," the artistic director said. "What you feel in Kosmos is energy that is influenced by the rush hour of the large city."
Tickets to Sunday's performance start at $27. Call 330-253-2488 or see www.dancecleveland.org to order.
When Elizabeth Dugas was a child growing up dancing in Shaker Heights and Solon, she knew she wanted to become a professional dancer and work on Broadway. What she didn't divine then was that dancing in operas at New York's Metropolitan Opera would help her land her first national tour.
Dugas spoke by phone from New York recently right after rehearsals for Bullets Over Broadway, which will launch its national tour at Playhouse Square Tuesday through Oct. 18. (Call 216-241-6000 or see www.playhousesquare.com for details.) She's in the ensemble, portraying homely assistant Lorna, and understudies the role of ditsy Olive.
The 27-year-old began studying dance at age 2 at Jordan Center for Dance in Orange and was competing by second grade. The University of Michigan dance and communications graduate has lived and worked in New York City for five years, dancing the last three seasons at the Met.
Rigoletto was her first opera there, her breakthrough after showing up for an open call dance audition. Last season, she danced in The Merry Widow, which was Broadway great Susan Stroman's first opera.
"It was a dream come true," Dugas said of working with the celebrated director and choreographer.
It was serendipitous that as Dugas was working in Stroman's opera last April and May, she also was auditioning for the tour of Bullets, which Stroman originally directed and choreographed on Broadway. Based on the 1994 film by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath, the 1929 story follows playwright David Shayne, who's trying to get his first play produced on Broadway. The problem is that producer Julian Marx has gangster Nick Valenti bankrolling the show, and Valenti wants his untalented girlfriend Olive to star.
Dugas was a fan of the Broadway musical when she went to an open call with more than 300 women in April. Jeff Whiting directs the tour, but Stroman had final say on casting.
Dugas kept her Bullets callback quiet from Stroman as she was performing in her opera: "I didn't want her to feel a conflict of interest."
She landed a role as one of only eight ensemble women. In this musical comedy, which features a show within a show, the female ensemble is important in moving the story along.
"We tap. We do the Charleston. We do a lot of partnering," Dugas said.
In mid-September, the cast was poised to do a run-through for Stroman as well as another for some of the former Broadway ensemble members that weekend. Next, the non-Equity tour would leave for Utica, N.Y., for technical rehearsals. Dugas was looking forward to finally rehearsing in her beautiful showgirl costumes and was just getting used to her numerous shoe changes as a dancer.
Dugas won't start understudy rehearsals for Olive until she gets to Cleveland. So far she's been watching from the side, dancing in a corner and taking notes. She'll do an alto belt as the Olive understudy, getting the chance to put the private vocal training she's done in New York over the last couple years to good use.
The actress has loved the Olive role since she saw Helene Yorke do it on Broadway: "It's almost hard to play because she's ditsy but she know what she wants and she knows how to use what she's got to get what she wants."
Dugas will also have to convince the audience she's really a good actress/dancer playing a talentless one: "She [Olive] still has to be doing double turns and not falling on her face."
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.
The Akron Beacon Journal, Kerry Clawson
RELATED COMPANY: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 12:00 PM
AKRON, Ohio -- The show isn't all that's going on this week at DanceCleveland. Beyond a performance Sunday, Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal is also moving forward with a full-on residency.
No change of venue or switched dates. Even after being shut down recently by the University of Akron, E.J. Thomas Hall is still hosting Canada's premiere dance troupe, in all its multi-faceted glory.
"News like that can mean tremendous change in more › our schedule," said Louis Robitaille, the group's artistic director. "But in fact everything stayed the same. It should be pretty smooth."
Smooth for us, anyway. Les Ballets Jazz may not have had to reschedule or relocate its performance or classes here, but it still arrives carrying the onus of its great reputation, of being a company known for mounting complex, boundary-straddling presentations.
Not seen here for a decade, the company returns in DanceCleveland's 60th anniversary season having not only to live up to its usual high standards but also to prove that it has kept up with the times and a world of dance that Robitaille said has changed "dramatically, at a speed that is unbelievable."
"Everywhere we go, we are known and appreciated, It's a bit stressful. You want to fulfill the expectations.
"But we also want to go higher and further, and surprise the audience in some respect. We like to mix styles and disciplines, to be really contemporary. It's very tricky, all those challenges."
Of course, Ballets Jazz wouldn't still be around 43 years after its founding if it weren't uncommonly adept at meeting those challenges. Nor would it have been invited back if it didn't already have several varied, intriguing solutions.
On its program Sunday are three examples of how Ballets Jazz has adapted to what Robitaille calls "the rhythm of the now."
With "Rouge," by Rodrigo Pederneiras, the company will joyfully acknowledge its geographic roots in a dance celebrating the land and native people of Montreal. Benjamin Millepied's "Closer," by contrast, is all about two people, the two dancers engaged in a lengthy, tour-de-force duet set to music by Philip Glass.
Last comes "Kosmos," a substantial new work by choreographer Andonis Foniadakis. To drive home the image of a frenetic, fast-paced world, Ballets Jazz will exhaust itself in an ode to the energy and interconnectedness of the big city. "When they finish this ballet, they are completely dead," Robitaille said.
Not completely dead, mind you. Ohio dance lovers have merely to return home after the performance but Ballets Jazz must hit the road once more, for a string of appearances in Los Angeles, Canada, and around Europe, where they'll do it all over again and again.
"We have much work to cover, many programs," Robitaille said. "The earth is our playground."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
Monday, August 17th, 2015 12:00 PM
A critical player in an effort to make the University of Akron a nationally recognized center for choreography has become another victim of the university's effort to cut costs.
DanceCleveland learned last week that it will have to spend thousands of dollars more than it ever has to use the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Center Oct. 4 for its season opener in Akron with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
The performance will more › go on as planned, said Executive Director Pam Young, but there could be as much as $22,000 in unanticipated costs for an organization with a $700,000 annual budget.
The increase includes a $17,000 rental package that includes stagehands and some rented lights; $3,000 in Akron-based marketing expenses previously handled by E.J. Thomas staff; and $1,800 for DanceCleveland to hire a production manager. Young also expects additional expenses, including renting a hazer, or fog machine, for one of the dance numbers, hiring a fire marshal and renting a dance floor.
DanceCleveland will also have to pay a new 6 percent secondary fee on all ticket sales for the concert.
Because the higher costs come after DanceCleveland's annual budget was approved by its board, Young is looking to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other donors for emergency funding.
"We see the potential of additional funding coming from the community to help us," Young said.
Local foundations already are heavily committed to DanceCleveland and the UA dance school.
The Akron Community Foundation in June said it would make $10,000 available for the October event.
In addition, Knight has promised $5 million to fund a choreography center at UA, to be run by a board made up of representatives of DanceCleveland, the university, the foundation and a former founding director of the only other university choreography center at Florida State University.
According to statements made at the time of the partnership announcement in May, use of E.J. Thomas is part of the deal, but whether that also is affected by university cutbacks could not be discerned Friday.
University Chief Financial Officer Nathan Mortimer, who has taken over responsibility for the performing arts center after management staff was laid off three weeks ago, could not be reached for comment Friday.
It was Mortimer who revealed to Young on Thursday that her organization will now be a renter and subject to fees, at least for the October dance event.
"It's just very difficult to have this sort of cost thrust on us, with so little time to be able to react and to be able to try to overcome it," Young said. "The hard part is we already have a budget; our fiscal year started July 1. To get hit with unexpected expenses, this is big for us. We're a little organization that does sort of big things."
Sharing costs in past
For a decade, DanceCleveland has been a co-presenter with E.J. Thomas and the University of Akron's dance program for its annual fall concert in Akron.
The UA dance department has provided financial assistance in the past, and will continue to do so.
"We've contributed up to $10,000 every year and we'll do it again," said Neil Sapienza, director of the School of Dance, Theatre and Arts Administration.
Artists' fees to bring Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal from Canada to Akron are $40,000 - $12,000 of which covers the company's residency with UA dance students Sept. 28-Oct. 2, which will be paid for by the dance department. The weeklong residency, which gives the students the opportunity to work with national and international dance artists, is in its ninth year.
By sharing costs in the past, E.J. has gotten major dance companies on its stage, DanceCleveland has benefited from the university's marketing power, and the dance department has gotten world-class residencies it couldn't otherwise have afforded.
Civic Theatre to assist
DanceCleveland and the University of Akron did not yet have a contract secured with E.J. Thomas Hall for this fall before UA dismissed all E.J. staff, part of a massive package of cuts to save the university $40 million. Contracts normally go out after July 1, Young said.
DanceCleveland already had sold 350 seats to subscribers for the fall performance by Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
Starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, tickets for the Oct. 4 dance show may be purchased at the Civic Theatre box office, across from the theater in the Ohio Building at 175 S. Main St., or by calling the Civic box office, 330-253-2488.
For the rest of the story, Please visit: http://www.ohio.com/news/education/new-choreography-center-at-ua-hosts-its-first-two-pilot-residencies-1.616512