Laura Hecquet and Takeru Coste from the 3rd Floor: soloists of the Paris Opera Ballet.
(Karli Cadel, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival)
BECKET – No special effects, no stunt doubles, no backgrounds, almost no dialogue and sometimes no music.
That’s all some great dance shows need to thrill an audience.
This is what puts people on the edge of their seat.
And that’s what 3e Etage delivered on Saturday afternoon at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
Then again, none of this came as much of a surprise. Two years ago, the same group of soloists from the Paris Opera Ballet presented a delightful program that really showed what these incredible dancers can do on stage.
On Saturday, the dazzling talent of the dancers was showcased in “The Pillow Thirteen”, a series of vignettes presented in two acts against a plain black background. The order of the short plays changes depending “on how the characters are feeling that night,” the program says. This may seem a bit premature – and it is.
And yet, 3e Etage manages to pull it off as their dance is so delightful and downright fun. Plus, it’s such a rare treat to see such prodigious dancers on such a small stage in our own backyard.
Some of the selections shown on Saturday were the same ones 3e Etage presented two years ago at Jacob’s Pillow. But the program did not feel like a rehearsal. On the contrary, they seemed to build on their performances from 2011 and add refreshing new dimensions to this year’s programme.
The only section that felt slightly out of place on Saturday was the opening act, “Mephisto,” which featured several dancers dressed in bright red outfits performing a series of classical ballet moves. The timing for three male dancers in this section also seemed slightly off, but perhaps that was intentional.
“Mephisto” likely delighted many in the audience as this section showcased exactly what these highly skilled dancers from one of the world’s most revered ballet companies are capable of performing on stage.
But for me, the whole piece took off once the band started performing the next two sections, “Smoke-Smoke” and “La Danse Des Livres (Book Dance)”. Like the show on the 3rd Floor two years ago, these two parts illustrate the great sense of humor of the choreographer and dancer Samuel Murez. The characters dressed in black and white acted out a kind of short silent play in which two men seemed to be trying to figure out how to interact with a woman, a topic that has puzzled mankind for centuries. In the wrong hands, this part could have been heavy and tedious. Instead, it was hilarious and featured some of the best modern dance I’ve seen on stage at Jacob’s Pillow this summer.
The next section on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” featured two dancers and it was lush and romantic without being sentimental. Again, Murez’s choreography was flawless and drew on the dancers’ classical training while still managing to push their footwork and movement into the 21st century.
The first half ended with a short segment the band performed two years ago titled “ME2.” Three male dancers talked and talked about me, me, me as they danced and sliced through the air with their arms and legs in sharp, angular movements. You could also cut the air with a knife because the crowd was so excited with everything going on around them on stage.
The piece that started the second half, “Process of Intricacy”, had no music. All that is heard are vague off-stage stage instructions as two dancers performed a dazzling dance, their bodies intertwined with each other as they twisted and twirled around the stage like birds. about to fly away.
The next section, “Quatre”, featured four male dancers and was part of the program two years ago. I was more than happy to see him again. Ballet dancers take very serious poses on stage. Only, it quickly becomes apparent that they have no idea what moves they’re supposed to make. So they improvise. Then they try to outdo each other with increasingly complex ballet moves. The crowd was laughing and cheering at the end.
The last two sections were more like one long section featuring the whole band. It was modern, very austere and the movements angular and precise. It was definitely not classical ballet. But there’s no way these superb dancers could have done what they did on stage if they hadn’t spent so many years perfecting their craft in a third-floor studio in Paris. This is where the name of the group comes from, third floor in French.
Luckily for us, 3e Etage decided to come back and share their gifts with us again. I hope they will be back in a year or two. Because from what they did on stage Saturday and two years ago, the dancers of 3e Etage have a lot of interesting things to say – often without even saying a word.
3rd Floor: The soloists of the Paris Opera Ballet perform until Sunday at the Ted Shawn Theater of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket. Performances are at 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from $45 to $75. Both shows are listed as sold out. To purchase tickets or for more information, click here or call (413) 243-0745.
Also this week at Jacob’s Pillow, Bodytraffic performs at the Doris Duke Theater today at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Both shows are currently sold out for this Los Angeles-based contemporary dance company.
NEXT WEEK AT JACOB’S PILLOW
O Vertigo Danse and the Contemporary Music Society of Quebec (August 7-11) perform at the Ted Shawn Theatre. The Jacob’s Pillow website describes the group as follows: “Founded in Montreal by artistic director and choreographer Ginette Laurin, O Vertigo Danse has been a dynamic force in the world of dance for over 25 years. The Contemporary Music Society of Quebec, directed by Walter Boudreau, is renowned for its exceptional level of cohesion, precision and expressiveness.”
Jessica Lange Dance (August 7-11) will have a world premiere at the Doris Duke Theatre. According to the Jacob’s Pillow website, “Lang combines powerful dance, beautiful scenic landscapes and expressive choreography in lush contemporary ballets.