Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal designs a show with Philly in mind

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal performs at the Annenberg Center this week.  Credit: Benjamin Von Wong Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal performs at the Annenberg Center this week.
Credit: Benjamin Von Wong

The title character of “Harry,” the 2012 ballet by Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall, struggles against a variety of both physical and existential obstacles. That may sound like a dark subject for a dance piece, but Louis Robitaille, artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal (BJM), offers his assurance that the piece fits in with the Canadian company’s athletic, exuberant style.

“The ballet is all about the conflicts in our lives, in our environment, in our society,” Robitaille says. “But what is great about Barak Marshall is the fact that he treats serious matters with a lot of humor. Harry constantly dies and is reborn like a phoenix, showing how strong people can fight against negative things, all with a great sense of humor. I think it supports the personality of the company, which is anything but dark and dramatic and obscure.”

“Harry” makes up the second half of the program that BJM will bring to Philly this weekend, an evening of local premieres that Robitaille assembled particularly with the city in mind. “We are very lucky to visit Philadelphia quite regularly,” he says. “We’ve never danced these ballets together, which is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I thought it would be special to do this for the first time in Philadelphia.”

The first half of the evening is composed of three shorter ballets, all set to the music of leading contemporary composers. Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto contributes the ensemble piece “Fuel,” which interprets the industrial world via a string orchestra piece by composer Julia Wolfe; and “Zero In On,” a duet set to music by legendary composer Philip Glass.

The music of Philip Glass is also the basis of “Closer,” a 2006 duet by Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and went on to marry the film’s star, Natalie Portman.

“The essence of dance is music and movement,” Robitaille says. “I’m always looking for choreographers and creators who can make that marriage perfect. Music brings different moods and emotions to a performance, and I like to bring a spectrum of different colors to our shows.”

Most of all, Robitaille says, the wide-ranging company is welcoming to audiences unfamiliar with dance and satisfying for those who know it intimately. “It’s a very accessible program for the audience. BJM is very joyful, very bright, very passionate. We give beauty and inspiration to people, and make them forget their problems.” – Shaun Brady

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
Jan. 16-18
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut St.
$20-$55, 215-898-3900

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