Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, Joyce Theatre, New York

The three far-flung choreographers on this European-styled troupe’s New York bill (touring Canada throughout the winter and in Boston in early February) have come to prominence only in the past five years, and they often recall other, better choreographers. But these Ballet Jazz commissions do inspire in the company’s 12 sensual, precise and egoless dancers a kinetic vibrancy that rivets the attention.

Israeli-American Barak Marshall brings staccato rhythms and a whiff of nostalgia for Old World folkways to the declarative theatricality and earthy physicality of his early mentor Ohad Naharin (Batsheva’s artistic director). With Pina Bausch’s shrill women and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s comically synchronised gestures added to the mix, Marshall very nearly crowds himself out. But his Harry does have at least one admirable ambition of its own, though: to show life blooming from myth, which in turn emerges from life, around and around. That the reality to which Harry alludes is a man laid under a white sheet – again and again, after being blown up by increasingly surreal means – makes the issue more pressing, though, than Marshall’s whimsical approach allows.

Chinese-Canadian Wen Wei Wang’s Night Box also suffers from a problem of tone, though one less dire. In the slinky, weightless style of ballet experimentalist William Forsythe, dancers siphon off from a club crowd for coolly romantic encounters before slipping back into the group. Wang is ingenious at distilling dance-floor juts and gyrations to their outline and using the mechanised crowd to comment on, adorn and hem in the featured couple. But for the duo to distinguish themselves from their robotic chorus, they would have to escape the electronic beat’s leaden thunk and surrender occasionally to the shock of gravity.

Munich-based Spaniard Cayetano Soto also makes use of Forsythe’s dexterous dislocations of spine and limbs – also for compellingly strange partnering. And the music for Zero in on – Philip Glass’s piano arpeggios – is minimalist as well. There, however, the comparison ends. Soto’s sureness of touch suffuses this duet with a sweetness as palpable as its inspirations are obvious. When the two dancers tie each other in knots, it is not the usual display of sexual power – ruthlessly bending the other to one’s will – but curious, affectionate, creaturely play.


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