Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal at the Prince

Tribal strength on display

Ever since humans began living in groups to ensure their survival, they have been banging rhythmically on whatever was at hand and moving in sync with the sound, sometimes in celebration, sometimes in confrontation, sometimes in lamentation. This was the origin of dance, and even today we can be made to feel the visceral strength of this primal urge to move to rhythmic sound.

Ballets Jazz de Montréal: impressive synchrony, strength, and grace. (Photo by Bill Hebert, courtesy of Dance Affiliates [NextMove Series])

Canada’s Ballets Jazz de Montréal, performing last weekend at the Prince, made full use of the tropes of tribal ritual in three pieces, using the power of the primitive to propel us into the future.

The first piece, Rouge, based on an original score by the Grand Brothers and choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, took its themes from Native-American history. It began with the full company trudging across the stage, evoking the Trail of Tears, a particularly shameful piece of 19th-century history. (The U.S. government forced the entire Cherokee nation off its lands in the Northeast, marching them by foot to reservations in what would become Arkansas and Oklahoma.) Since I am of Cherokee ancestry, the evocation moved me considerably. The choreography (and the music) went through several phases, but “strength” was always the central component. A highlight was an impressive pas de deux that was sometimes almost brutal, yet always graceful and dramatic.

Avant-garde, and unfortunate, “music”

The second piece, Mona Lisa, choreographed by Itzik Galili, is a short pas de deux by company members Céline Cassone and Mark Francis Caserta. It was set to “music” by Galili and Thomas Höfs — the score was little more than a constant pecking noise that sounded vaguely like a typewriter, all very modern and avant-garde. And unfortunate. The choreography itself was good, if somewhat abstract, and the dancers were excellent. But that noise was distracting, even eventually annoying; it was a disservice to what was otherwise an excellent piece.

The final piece, Kosmos, was choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis. In some ways its themes reflected the tribalistic feel of Rouge, but it was more athletic and graceful in its approach. Set to an excellent score by Julien Tarride, the joyous Kosmos moved the idea of tribe forward to an optimistic place. The company members moved with impressive synchrony, strength, and grace. It was an excellent conclusion to an evening of mostly first-class work that used the memories of our distant origins to propel us into an unknown but fascinating future.

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