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The Akron Beacon Journal, Kerry Clawson  |  September 30, 2015

International flavor at UA with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal

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 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.

Broadway dreams

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 kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.
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