Montreal dance company decamped to countryside to create work for virtual audience

After their European tour was cut short, the entire company of Ballets Jazz de Montréal isolated, got tested, said goodbye to family and friends, and decamped to Domaine Forget in Charlevoix in mid-September to create a new work.

Ballets Jazz de Montréal went into a bubble to create new choreography

The pandemic turned the artistic world upside down, but dancers like Jeremy Coachman, whose performances in France were cancelled, are finding ways to virtually reach audiences. (Charles Contant/CBC)

In the parallel universe where there is no coronavirus, Jeremy Coachman would be taking the stage somewhere in France, to perform Dance Me, the Ballets Jazz de Montréal's signature piece, set to Leonard Cohen's music.

Instead, he's in Montreal, wearing a mask and rehearsing with the rest of the company in the almost empty Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts.

The theatre will remain empty even as the dancers premiere a brand new choreography Thursday evening on Facebook and YouTube.

That they have something new to perform at all is thanks to grant money and inspiration from some professional sports.

After their European tour was cut short — and after months of being distanced — the entire company isolated, got tested, said goodbye to family and friends, and decamped to Domaine Forget in the Charlevoix region in mid-September.

"Having that experience of being in nature and feeling safe enough to interact and just do what we love to do, it was really nice," Coachman says.

They used their three-week artistic bubble to create a new work with choreographer Ermanno Sbezzo. It's called "Approximately Close — Quand le passé n'est presque plus" and is very much a reflection of our times.

"It was birthed out of having all of these limitations placed on us and sort of adapting from that, so we can still be doing what we love and being useful in the world, because this is our means of expression," Coachman says.

Interim artistic director Jeremy Raia wanted to create something that was more than 'a piece of art during the pandemic.' (Charles Contant/CBC)

For interim artistic director Jeremy Raia, it was important to make something that was more than "just a piece of art during the pandemic." 

The choreography, he says, is about memories: "You can almost touch them. They are there in the back of our minds, in our hearts, so we get close to them at times and then they disappear."

In rehearsal, the dancers wear masks as they work out staging details that sometimes bring them closer to each other than the requisite two metres.

The only dancers who get to dance closely, intimately, are Yosmell Calderon and Shanna Irwin, who are a couple off stage.

Dancers Yosmell Calderon and Shanna Irwin who are a couple off stage rehearse for the company’s premiere (Charles Contant)

And when there is music, it's mostly Greek music, conjuring up images of Mediterranean idylls that are out of reach — like so much else these days.

For Coachman, there is a kind of relief in being back on stage "to be able to just let out artistically and be able to express all of this anger and upset and confusion, all of those emotions that we're feeling right now."

He and the rest of the company will share that when they premiere their new work Thursday evening from Théatre Maisonneuve, on social media.

BJM -- Ballets Jazz de Montréal's "Approximately Close – Quand le passé n'est presque plus" premieres Thursday Nov. 19 at  6:30 p.m. local time and will be online for 48 hours.

It can be watched on the Ballets Jazz Montréal Facebook page and YouTube Channel.


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