An ensemble of 30 dancers moves perfectly in unison, until suddenly they break out into variations, each one completely different from the next. Suddenly the dancers are back in unison, and the outburst seemed as planned as it did random. The break from unison into variation was the theme for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal’s performance of “Minus One” at the Arlington Theatre on Monday night.
The full house was receptive, and was surprisingly filled with a large number of students. Rather than telling a story like many classical ballets – “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker” – “Minus One” was a set of different dances that focused on one dancer breaking from the unit to do a variation. The dances express emotions rather than the conventional use of storylines and characters. In fact, nearly all of the numbers are ensembles. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin, the ballet used an eclectic range of music, from “Mambo Love” to “Greensleeves” to a techno-metal number. Naharin is an Israeli choreographer known for his unique combinations and reinventions of other dances.
The show began with a repetition of a wave of motion that most resembled the movement of a snake. Assembled in a half-circle, the writhing would begin with the dancer at one end, and once the transfer of energy reached the other end, the last dancer threw himself free, as if he had been propelled by the momentum of the dancers’ continuing energy. Even though the movements were repeated, each time the intensity was increased, and the company had hooked the audience with the palpable passion and energy present in the theater.
The pas de deux, which literally translated, means, “dance of two,” was a showcase of balance and technique. While the performance featured the classic themes of a pas de deux, such as the chase and the seduction, this time it is not only the man that does the chasing. The man takes the lead first, but then the woman takes over, duplicating the man’s steps for an entirely different effect.
In a later number, a line of dancers moves across the stage in step until one falls behind, and a voice-over explains the loneliness of a solo or the performer’s passion for dancing. The solos showcased an almost unnatural range of movement as the performers sailed through the air, contorting their bodies in ways that were both artful and surreal.
One woman’s voice-over told of her problems in relationships because of her commitment to her career. She gave her e-mail address in hopes of getting a date, any date. A male dancer did several single pirouettes en pointe – in his jazz shoes.
The strangest performance was with five male dancers in pants that flowed like gauzy flowers and a bucket of green paint. With a Lord of the Flies feel and hang time that should have made the men think about becoming basketball players, the number was quite unusual. With an intimacy between the men not usually seen in U.S. productions, the dancers graced the stage with lifts and jumps, flying through the air like falling cherry blossoms.
The company used classical technique with the mixing of multiple artistic influences to produce a show that was modern yet appealed to those who enjoy a more traditional show. Classical ballet lovers, Fosse fans and “Cirque de Soliel” enthusiasts would have enjoyed the multifaceted performance. Even though the numbers seem incongruous with each other at times, the insistence of a variation from the unity of the ensemble was present, even if it was not in the foreground of the choreography. The only thing one could ask for is another show. Luckily for you, the troupe is performing at Irvine’s Barclay Theatre on Friday, April 13. Visit www.thebarclay.org for more information.