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The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis   |  September 29, 2015

Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal presses on with DanceCleveland show at E.J. Thomas Hall (preview)

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 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."

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