50 years of Ballets jazz Montréal: Love letter to dance

Ballets jazz Montréal continues celebrations for its 50the anniversary and presents, for the first time in theaters in Montreal, the triple program Essence. An eclectic evening composed of three female choreographers who want to highlight the dancers.

“In 50 years, certain things have not changed, several elements are truly part of the DNA of Ballets jazz Montréal, for example the fact of accomplishing a lot of things with a few people,” believes Alexandra Damiani, director of the company since 2021.

Indeed, according to her, the small team of Ballets jazz Montréal (BJM), which represents 24 people, is the basis of most of the company’s projects. A momentum and energy that we already saw in 1972.

“Geneviève Salbaing [créatrice des Ballets jazz de Montréal, l’ancien nom de la compagnie] was super-connected and fearless. When the first pieces were created for the brand new company, she called Maurice Béjart to invite the troupe to be part of a festival in Europe! She was going for it, and I love that, and I think we’re still in that vital force! » adds Mme Damiani.

Through this anecdote, we also see that BJM has always been a touring company, a company that brings its performers to dance on the international stage. A habit that the new director intends to continue, while adapting to current realities. “Yes, travel, but take the time to counterbalance our travels and find a real balance in that,” she says.

Since its beginnings, BJM has been one of the rare Quebec companies to hire around ten dancers full-time, year-round. Again, this is an important characteristic, according to Mme Damiani, who wants to pamper her artists, a place she occupied 20 years ago. “I already felt at the time that my personality was welcome, that everyone had their place and was appreciated for who they are. No one is bullied into fitting into a mold,” she says.

On the other hand, Ballets jazz Montréal is no longer what it once was. Indeed, initially, Geneviève Salbaing and Eva Von Gencsy, passionate about jazz music, shook up the codes by offering schools where a new style of dance was taught, to jazz music. Their success then allowed the opening of a company that promoted this new style.

“Already, when Louis Robitaille took over as artistic director, 25 years ago, he wanted to anchor the Jazz Ballets in current affairs, by bringing a contemporary side, music of the time, percussion, which are in connection with jazz, but it moved away all the same,” says the artistic director.

However, according to her, the energy of the dancers remains the same. “They are dynamic, sensual, generous, they are not afraid to please, to make the public feel something in order to share their passion, and that has been the case since the beginning,” she says. For meme Damiani, the versatility and great technique of the dancers of Ballets jazz Montréal allow them, even today, to adapt to everything.

Pay tribute to the performers

When Alexandra Damiani took office, BJM had just launched a major creation, intended for the international market, Vanishing melodies. A little taken by surprise, the new artistic director decided to get involved and propose, although it was not planned, a program to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary. “I thought of it as a complement to Vanishing melodies and also to celebrate my arrival. I wanted to offer a love letter to dance, to highlight the technique, the beauty and the altruism of the performers,” she says.

As time and budget were not very substantial, Alexandra Damiani decided to go “with her heart” to choose the choreographers for this unforeseen evening. She immediately thought of Crystal Pite, whom she met when she herself danced for Ballets jazz Montréal and with whom she worked during her career in New York.

In my eyes, this piece will show all the facets of Ballets jazz Montréal, the technical level, intelligence and sensitivity

“It was Crystal herself who submitted the idea of ​​bringing Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, a piece we worked on together in New York. I was rehearsal director for this piece at the time, so, as soon as we agreed, I went into the studio with the dancers to pass it on to them,” says the woman whose career began there almost 30 years ago.

For the director, this short piece, 14 minutes long, is “great Crystal, embroidery for dancers”. “In my eyes, this piece will show all the facets of Ballets jazz Montréal, the technical level, the intelligence and the sensitivity,” she says. Here, rescue, interdependence, the need for others are among the themes addressed. “The images really go straight to the heart. Crystal also plays with time, stops, slow motion, the power of a simple moment,” she continues.

Secondly, Alexandra Damiani thought about the work of Aszure Barton and her piece The Jacques’ rooms, created tailor-made for the company’s dancers in 2006. “She immediately got on board when I suggested that we bring this very rock’n’roll piece up to date which talks about addictions, fantasies, brothels and of the essence of humans. Rooms or forbidden places that we hide, I love them! ” she says.

Finally, to complete her program, Alexandra Damiani called on one of the company’s young dancers, Ausia Jones. “I heard about her before she even finished school in California and afterward, I quickly saw her talent. I wanted to give him a chance, to make room for the next generation, for young people,” she says.

With We Can’t Forget About What’s His Namethe young choreographer makes room for house music, the world of clubbing, in a totally non-binary aesthetic. “Many young people remain influenced by their masters, their teachers, but Ausia really stands out, she already has her own language, she masters it,” she thinks.

It was only after finishing her programming that the artistic director realized that these were the works of three women. “I simply went there with my heart. Afterwards, it says a lot about me, that’s for sure, but I didn’t do it consciously! » she said, amused.

The program Essence therefore promises a very diverse evening for dancers and spectators. A wealth, according to Mme Damiani. “With Ausia, we are in the spirit, in the youth. With Crystal, maturity, delicacy and the art of dance are put forward. Finally, with Aszure, it is the performative, theatrical side that emerges. For me, that’s Ballets jazz Montréal,” she concludes.


Jazz ballets Montreal, choreographies by Ausia Jones, Crystal Pite and Aszure Barton. At the Maisonneuve theater at Place des Arts from September 27 to 30 and at the Cultural Center of the University of Sherbrooke on October 3.

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