Dance Victoria presents Les Ballets Jazz de MontrÃ©al
When: Friday and Saturday, 7: 30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $29 to $65 at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121.
Choreographer Wen Wei Wang found the seed for his latest project one night in a downtown Montreal bar.
"Why aren't we doing something like this," he said to Louis Robitaille, artistic director of Les Ballets Jazz de MontrÃ©al, looking around. "Look, look at the life."
Wang said he could impose a story on each person, based only on their expressions and the way they spoke and moved. The anonymous mass became individuals, and the buzz was inspiring.
The energy of that nocturnal urban space sparked what would become Night Box, the "high voltage" piece Wang choreographed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Les Ballets Jazz - as well as the unique spirit of the city.
"It's quite different from the English part of the world," said the Vancouver-based choreographer. "I've been to Montreal many times [and] the nightlife in that kind of French culture is so interesting. Most of the weekends, everybody goes out, eats, drinks. [It's] a celebration."
Les Ballets Jazz will perform the piece Friday and Saturday in Victoria. The mixed program also includes Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall's Harry and Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto's pas de deux Zero in On.
Victoria audiences will remember Wang for his works Unbound (2006), which explored concepts of femininity and won an Isadora Award for Excellence in Choreography, and Cock-Pit (2009), which explored masculinity. He also mentored local dance artists Constance Cooke, Lori Hamar and Leah Wickes through Dance Victoria's LOLA Project in 2011. Last year, Nanaimo's Crimson Coast Dance Society celebrated Wang with a three-day festival called Dynastic Dreams.
Wang had many urban spaces to compare with Montreal in designing Night Box, having presented his works internationally, at venues ranging from the Venice Biennale to the International Contemporary Dance Festival in Colombia. The Chinese-born dancer was based in the busy city centre of Xi'an, before moving to Canada in 1991 to join the Judith Marcuse Dance Company. He danced with Ballet British Columbia for seven years and formed his own company, Wen Wei Dance, in 2003.
Montreal - which he described as very free and sensual - was starkly different from life in urban China during the Cultural Revolution. When he was growing up, there were no nightclubs or bars and going out just didn't happen.
"You're not to think about the sexual - you're not allowed to talk about that part of human life," he said.
Montreal is the opposite. "The kind of energy, the vigour - [there's] something about that city."
While Wang enjoys the freedom of working with his own company, projects like this one - his first commission with Les Ballets Jazz - give him a different kind of liberty. There are more resources, a bigger cast to work with than his usual six and dancers have a different skill set.
"They're incredibly beautiful - really high technique and physique and energy, but each one is unique as an artist," he said. "To make that piece is to bring each one's individuality [out]."
Each dancer speaks with his or her body, he said.
"They can move - and they do have that kind of urban energy, ground energy," he said.
Wang has also choreographed for Alberta Ballet, Ballet Jorgen, Dancers Dancing, North West Dance Projects, Vancouver Opera and the San Francisco Opera. He returned to Montreal with his company in August to develop a new work through L'Agora de la danse and Circuit Est, which is set to première in the spring.
In the meantime, the sounds and rhythms of that city will fill the Royal Theatre this week for Night Box.
Audiences can expect a minimalist soundtrack, precise lighting designed by James Proudfoot and a fusion of contemporary and street choreography to evoke the urban QuÃ©bÃ©cois environment.
"We think of nightlife as finishing the day, but for me, it's almost like the new beginning," he said.
"By the end, everything quiets down. And you start to feel [the arrival of] the new life, the next morning. You almost can see the dawn, the sun coming up. It gives you some kind of hope."
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