Founded in 1972, les Ballets Jazz de Montreal has, for the most part, kept up with the times. Under the direction of Louis Robitaille since 1998, the 15-member company looks runway-sleek with polished moves that would put Kate Moss to shame. Seriously, these dancers have the energy of a tsunami with stamina to spare.
It's too bad, then, that only one of two works truly caught fire Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Happily, though, that piece, the 2006 "Les Chambres des Jacques," by the scorching young Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton (a favorite of Baryshnikov), roared, purred and positively seemed lighted from within.
Set to a taped musical pastiche that included a Vivaldi aria, work by the Cracow Klezmer Band and a Quebecois folk song, the 40-minute dance created a total universe, one where whimsy, emotions, longings and the battle of the sexes played out amid a startlingly original movement vocabulary.
There was an elastic James Gregg, wriggling, swaggering and Irish jigging, tossing in an occasional flip. Katherine Cowie, her sensuously arched back alluring in any language, became an object of desire for both Gregg and Alex Frei, this trio contorting space to suit themselves. Suggestions of violence also coursed through solos, duos and small groupings, with teeth-biting, finger-snapping, lip-smacking and crotch-grabbing all part of this noirish tableau.
Barton has a way of seamlessly negotiating styles, be they hip-hop, jazz or neo-ballet, with pure lines dissolving into loose-limbed thrashings. Socking it to us, her dancers revel in this rarefied world, finding love where they can, and blatant lust is a given.
In "Mapa," the other full-company work -- made by Rodrigo Pederneiras, choreographer of the Brazilian Grupo Corpo since 1978, and set to a mind-numbingly dreary score by Marco Antonio Pena Araujo (his initials spell the title) -- the performers are put through rigorous but often empty paces for 40 very long minutes.
Fernando Velloso's op art backdrop and Anne-Marie Veevaete's equally '70s-inspired costumes (flared jazz pants, fitted tops) helped contribute to a relentlessly plodding, repetitious sensibility: a dizzying blend of pelvic-thrusting samba, capoeira and modern dance. Never have Brazilian and African moves looked so bland and, well, pointlessly assaultive. Joyful, yes, and virtuosically executed, the constant unison meanderings nevertheless contributed to visual gridlock, with the dancers having nowhere to go and the audience also stuck in idle.