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Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal

May 7, 2017

les grands MINUS ONEMinus One

Reviewed May 6, 2017

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

Created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Minus One is certainly one of the most fascinating works in the Montreal contemporary company’s repertoire.

What’s astonishing is that, even though it premiered 15 years ago, it’s still dynamic and vibrant today.

Known for inventing his own unique movement language, which encourages dancers to step beyond the familiar, Naharin has attracted fans around the world. Now in his sixties, he has received many awards and honours for his choreography. Since 1990, he has been artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, where he started his dance career. His works are performed by dance companies around the world.

As a compilation of several different works, Minus One reinterprets earlier dances and pulls together a complete evening of eclectic entertainment, rife with intelligence, clarity, fun and wit. It’s a theatrical work of kinetic energy that leaves a bevy of dramatic images in the observer’s memory long after it ends.

The show begins before it begins – not novel, but an engaging way to introduce the audience to the show to come: a lone dancer prances delightfully – sometimes clownishly — across the stage, interacting with the audience, some still settling into their seats, with a “watch me” kind of elegance and jocularity.

When the show proper begins, it nearly overpowers with the sheer number of dancers on stage – I’d say about 30 – dressed completely alike in black two-piece suits, white shirts and bowler hats, both men and women. To the traditional Passover song “Ecchad Mi Yodea,” written and performed by rock band Tractor’s Revenge, a full cast sits on folding chairs in a semi-circle that takes up the entire stage. The music is driving, the dancers shout loudly, the movement is repetitive. Sometimes the dancers move ensemble, sometimes sequentially in a long impressive wave movement. It’s a strong, bold, enthralling opening that sets the stage for what’s to come.

Naharin has a clear sense of the overall effect of a full cast performing collaboratively – even when the odd dancer stands out from the crowd. He often uses repetitive movement to form structure, foundation and pattern. His duets can be curious, even while playful. Ritual and symbolism seep into some movements. Dancers bond, explore relationship and engage in unusual and beguiling ways.

Exceptionally skilled, extraordinary in their diversity and infinitely musical throughout, the dancers not only co-operate in a group mentality, but also express their individuality, particularly in a movement that has about a dozen dancers form a line, allowing one dancer at a time to break out and share their own relationship with dance. A voice-over of their autobiographical stories accompanies each brief solo – stories that are touching, quaint, surprising and real.

The music accompaniment is as eclectic as the movement. From a Jeremy Barlow arrangement of the traditional English folk song Greensleeves to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and the Hollywood composers Livingston and Ray’s famous Que Sera Sera, the music defines the action on stage.

As Naharin is also a great believer in the pleasure of dance, and that everyone should do it, perhaps it is no surprise that at some point during the evening, a host of dancers fan out into the audience and bring some 15 audience members back onto the stage to participate in a group cha-cha. The effect is delightful. Many of the “non-dancers” fit in so naturally, it nearly looks rehearsed!

And perhaps that is the point! Anyone can dance.

The show at the National Arts Centre Saturday marked the end of a mini-tour of the work by Les Grands Ballets in British Columbia and Ontario.

 

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From → Contemporary

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