For more than 40 years, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal has been at the forefront of Canadian and international dance. And for more than 20 of those years, since Louis Robitaille became artistic director, BJM has been a dance company renowned for its cutting edge vision and work with the new generation of world choreographers.
“We have, this year, quite an intense tour in Canada and Quebec, which is great,” Robitaille said in an interview with the Townsman. “It’s one of the busiest tours we’ve had for several years now.”
The BJM experience is coming to Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre on Wednesday, October 12, 2016. Robitaille says to expect a celebration, a lot of energy and emotion.
“When people come to BJM, they forget their problems for the length of the performance. Afterward, they have stars in their eyes, smiles, they’re dancing on the air.”
BJM continually seeks the balance of both challenging and captivating the audience.
“It’s always been very important for me to respect the personality of the company,” Robitaille said. “People expect to see beautiful, talented, sensual dancers, and to be entertained. There are enough problems in the world. People expect to have a really nice evening when they come to BJM. It’s really important not to forget this.
“But people are not stupid. They are very intelligent, they are exposed to all sorts of art, so for us the challenge is always to explore, and push the limits to wherever we can go.”
A night with the Ballets Jazz de Montreal is tremendously energetic, Robitaille says — “very high voltage.
“We can go from from a different kind of proposition, different voices, something that is part of the vocabulary to something more challenging. But we always succeed somehow in making it work. And the audience always enjoys the freshness, the originality, of what we are proposing.
“It’s being aware of how much can you can push the limit.”
In many ways, BJM has always followed an independent, adventurous path over it’s 40 year trajectory.
“Vision, personality is something that’s really important for us,” Robitaille said. “It makes our company different from many others. When we are touring around the world we need to be aware of different cultures, different mentalities — and it’s difficult sometimes, with those aspects.”
A large part of what sets BJM apart is its commitment to working with the young cutting edge choreographers.
“We decided a long time ago to work with the new generation of really talented choreographers,” Robitaille said. “This is really important for us. These are people who are making a statement in the international dance world. They are influencing dance now and probably for a couple of years to come. It brings vision to something that is really actual. Something that’s really ‘today.'”
The triple bill BJM is presenting in Cranbrook exemplifies this partnership. “Mono Lisa,” by Israeli choreographer Itzak Galili, is a bold new take on the standard pas de deux — an edgy look at the predicament of the modern couple, set to industrial music based on the sounds of typewriters.
“It’s a very physical duet, extremely athletic and difficult, very challenging for the artists with the precision of ‘Mono Lisa’,” Robitaille said.
“O Balcao de Amor,” also by Galili, is based on classic 1950s Cuban mambo music.
“Everybody knows that music,” Robitaille said. “It brings warmth and humorous characters on stage. It’s fun, it’s a good time for the whole company, and a fun time to spend with the artists.”
“Kosmos,” choreographed by the Greek Andonis Foniadakis, is the heavyweight piece of the program; a work of sweeping movements that deals with the frenzy of modern urban life. Alternating between chaos and order, it places great physical demands on the dancers.
Dance has an art form is in a constant state of evolution, and in his tenure as artistic director Robitaille has reoriented BJM to be at the vanguard of these changes. A renowned dancer in his own right, he has seen these changes first hand.
“When I started dancing 45 years ago, there was territory in dance. You were either classical, or modern, or Jazz … For some time now, all the mixtures of discipline has become what is now normal in dance.
Looking into the future, Robitaille said that the increasing incorporation of other disciplines is where dance is headed.
“I believe that disciplines like circus arts, projection, the new technology will take up more space. For our future creation and vision, I’m exploring these possibilities, and working developing those options, and avenues.
“But it’s a paradox. We’re a touring dance company, but you want to explore what different disciplines can bring to dance. In reality it can be a problem. You need to be balanced and careful about the ambition of your project.”
But finally, it all comes down to dance, to the dancer on stage.
“We must not forget our soul. And that I try to remind myself of that all the time. We are and we like to be a dance company. We are not a circus. We dance on stage, we don’t act. Sometimes, when we play with new technology, it overshadows the dance.”
It’s a very busy time for the company at the moment — in rehearsals for an upcoming intense tour of the country.
“We are looking forward to leaving on tour. It’s a very special season where we’ll meet our community in Quebec and in Canada. This is very important for us.”
Ballet Jazz de Montreal performs at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook on Wednesday, Oct. 12