Almost a year ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing Unbound, an utterly captivating contemporary dance performance by Wen Wei Wang, performed by Wen Wei Dance. This year, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal brought Wen Wei’s Night Box to the stage in addition to two other works by two other choreographers. The evening’s performance was guided by one artistic director, Louis Robitaille, who has been dedicated to the group for 15 years. The stage was set and the Salt Spring audience was brimming with youthful energy; this was a night to remember.
The first performance, entitled Locked Up Laura, was a dance by one man and one woman, with movement and music that unveil choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s intended meaning. To begin, Lopez Ochoa places Laura and her partner at opposite ends of the stage; the couple move toward one another and in sequence and both dancers reveal their skill and talent for the art. Throughout the performance, however, Laura seems unwilling to perform with her postures lethargic and doll-like. She gestures discomfort with her costume and flops on the stage in and out of her partner’s arms. The juxtaposition of lethargy with firm moves that are focused and determined gives the work tension and release, grabbing the attention of audience members, leaving them questioning.
In Night Box we are taken to the club scene of Crescent St in Montreal where sensual movement, body contact and personality rule. Costumes, choreography, sound, lighting, and the art of the dance all came together to create a pulsing dark and light that warmed up the stage to sizzling temperatures throughout. Each dancer had a different gift to offer, and as a team provided a variety of glimpses into what happens when it gets dark. One of these scenes included a tall woman dancing with two men who were shorter in comparison, an unusual scene in the world of dance. A woman in the audience asked during the question period about what it is like to incorporate a tall woman dancer. Robitaille responded with ease. He explained that she can hold herself and become centred and light; “she knows how to make it easier on the men who lift her.”
In the finale, a dance-theatre piece called Harry, by Isreali-American choreographer Barak Marshall, audience members were mesmerized. Post-war Swing era guys and gals in dresses and slacks struggle with existence at a time of chaos. As a dance-theatre work, the dancers dance and share their footwork talent while occasionally projecting their voices to convey a story. The story is about Harry, the main character who weaves in and out of life’s trials and tribulations. The dancing was poignant, with fresh, sharp and exaggerated movements glittering on stage. The emotions were ripe with a richness that was clear to see, feel and hear with animated facial expressions and punctuated accents. Louis Robitaille explained that the dancers had to really push their boundaries with the vocal projection as dancing and projecting at the same time is not an easy task. All of that hard work was clear to see; the performance was altogether magnificent and Salt Springers were not afraid to express their gratitude with a lengthy standing ovation.