Two nights of Ballets Jazz de Montreal in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Two nights of Ballets Jazz de Montreal in Aspen

Barak Marshall's "Harry" calls on dancers to do more than dance.

In the Isreali-American choreographer's acclaimed 40-minute composition, which Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal debuted in 2012, dancers move not in the customary silence of contemporary ballet, but act and speak on the stage and work with props, including balloons, in service of a narrative.

The composition has been hailed as a game-changer for contemporary dance, perhaps signaling the next evolution of the form by rejecting abstraction for a representational sort of dance-drama.

Set during World War II, with flourishes of period-appropriate music and dancers in 1940s dress, "Harry" showcases the company doing swing and folk dancing with klezmer music and comedic touches. Marshall has said it "tells a simple story about a man who defies fate, the gods, the cruelties of others, and death to be with the woman he loves."

“We call ourselves a fusion company because we combine street dance, folkloric, jazz and hip-hop and we like to explore other disciplines.”Louis RobitailleArtistic director

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Raised in Los Angeles and Israel, Marshall performed as a dancer, like most choreographers, but was trained as a singer and also performed as a comedian — experience that helped birth the ambitious "Harry."

"He has all this great background, and the background of two cultural identities," said Louis Robitaille, artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. "All of that experience is part of his movement. The theatricality is quite strong, and what I like about Barak is that it's a serious subject, and he pulls out a lot of humor."

The innovative Canadian dance company will perform "Harry" in a three-piece program tonight and Saturday at the Aspen District Theatre, in a presentation hosted by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

Founded in 1972, the Quebec-based company comes to Aspen following a summer tour of Europe. The program for Aspen also includes "Closer," a duet by the French choreographer Benjamin Millepied (best known in American pop culture as Mr. Natalie Portman), set to music by Philip Glass, and "Rouge," an intense piece by Brazil's Rodrigo Pedemerias.

"We call ourselves a fusion company because we combine street dance, folkloric, jazz and hip-hop and we like to explore other disciplines," said Robitaille, who has overseen the company since 1998. "Barak is a perfect example of the flexibility of each artist in the company."

The program opens with "Rouge."

"This piece was quite an adventure," Robitaille said of the creative process behind the work.

The company commissioned Pederneiras to compose a ballet about the native peoples of North America, and he concocted a blend of aboriginal movement and music, with a primitive score also commissioned for the piece.

"It was quite challenging to base ourselves on those musical references and bring it into today," Robitaille explained. "The sounds of birds, the sounds of nature and the wind and water and everything — it's quite special."

"Closer" is a dreamy, romantic duet set to Phillip Glass' propulsive piano solo "Mad Rush," which debuted in 2006.

"In the dance world it is a little jewel," Robitaille said of the composition.

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If You Go …

What: Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal

When: Friday, Aug. 7 & Saturday, Aug 8, 8 p.m.

Where: Aspen District Theatre

How much: $25-$74

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspensantafeballet.com

What: Dance for Kids, presented by Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal

When: Saturday, Aug. 8, 4 p.m.

Where: Aspen District Theatre

How much: $25

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspensantafeballet.com