AKRON, Ohio -- Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, dance's cool kids from up north with hairstyles to match, capped a week-long residency at the University of Akron with an exemplary triple-bill of contemporary ballet that elicited various states of euphoria.
Presented by DanceCleveland and school's dance program, the production Sunday at E.J. Thomas Hall opened with "Rouge," a 34-minute work from 2014 by Rodrigo Pederneiras, resident choreographer of the Brazilian dance theater troupe Grupo Corpo.
Set to an atmospheric original score by The Grand Brothers that conjured up images of indigenous tribes and rain forests, the choreography for "Rouge" employed a variation on the artist's signature movement language of foot stomps, hops and hip-sinking shuffles found in so many of Grupo Corpo's popular works like "21" and "Bach."
BJM's women costumed in Native American-style dresses adorned with Aztec-like symbols and its men in pants and armbands began to slowly move to the sounds of tribal chanting and nature sounds. Soon those sounds were replaced with the thundering of drums that sent the dancers cascading into a series of feet-shuffling and body-undulating movement phrases that were uniquely mesmerizing.
"Rouge's" best moment came in a sexually-charged duet between petite, red-haired dancer Celine Cassone and her partner Mark Francis Caserta. Lifted, pushed and pulled suggestively, Cassone was at once submissive and aggressive with Caserta, who oozed machismo in the rousing, animalistic duet.
The mood then shifted with Paris Opera director Benjamin Millepied's sublime "Closer" (2006). Set to composer Philip Glass' swirling "Mad Rush," the delicate 17-minute pas de deux performed by Cassone and Alexander Hille moved like a light breeze through a window, softly billowing curtain sheers on the way to kissing your face with soothing grace.
The adroitly danced pas de deux -- filled with cradled holds, fainting dips and supple back-bends -- drifted along with Glass's piano music and repeatedly built to crescendos, only to quiet and begin again.
The stirring program concluded with "Kosmos," a new work by rising star Andonis Foniadakis. The 35-minute work set to rumbling drum music by Julien Tarride was inspired by the frenetic bustle of daily life.
Performing at a sadistically fast pace, BJM's dancers blazed through fitful and relentless choreography dense with flailing arm movements, jumps, roundhouse kicks and falls. If the character Hilarion in classical ballet's "Giselle" were forced to dance to death in present time, it would surely look like this. The stamina-busting choreography was something to marvel at for its sheer creativity and exhilarating brilliance.
The final section of "Kosmos'" gave both the dancers and the audience a breather as the stage went momentarily dark only to be illuminated by a star field of white circles that covered it and the dancers. The troupe's dancers then slowly formed classical ballet group tableaus that could have represented the formation of constellations.
It had been a decade since BJM's last visit to Northeast Ohio. Let's hope it doesn't take another for this sensational globetrotting company to return.