Les Ballets C de la B at the Joyce

Sweet relief! After a couple weeks of either disappointing or, at best, challenging work that offered enjoyment for an occasionally steep price, sinking into the amazingness that is Les Ballets C de la B’s Out of Context – For Pina, at the Joyce through Oct. 24 (tickets $10-$75), was downright rejuvenating. Alain Platel’s choreography is rich and full of personality, and over the course of the hour-long work he surprises and entertains with only an occasional stumble.

The work opens with the stage bare and empty. The nine dancers are placed throughout the audience, and each by turn jumps up, walks down the aisle and clambers onstage. They form a row along the upstage wall, patiently dressing down to their underwear and carefully folding their clothes before wrapping themselves in blankets and lining up facing the audience.

From there, the piece unfolds with wit and charm, propelled by an almost tongue-in-cheek movement style that feels a bit like a friendly satire of ballet: the movement is often arch and heightened in proper balletic style, but Platel is constantly bringing it back down to earth. The first part of the work is largely given over to a series of duets downstage-left, with the rest of the company performing as an ensemble behind them. An early standout is Melanie Lomoff and Elie Tass’s duet, concentrating on the upper body, performed by the two in stationary poses, knees bent to 90 degrees.

In terms of the company, it would be hard to find much fault with any member, but Lomoff does stand out, if for no other reason that she does quite a bit of heavy lifting in the dance. A long pop music segment, set to a simple rhythm score, featured almost every member of the multinational, multilingual company taking turns at the microphone, belting out in a flat, uninflected monotone random lines from twenty years or more of pop music. Almost all, except for Lomoff, who spends the long sequence alternating between creative pairings, ensemble work, and aggressive solos.

But Lomoff was hardly the only stand-out. Emilr Josse’s solo ending the pop segment, which had him clambering through the audience and performing standing on arm rests, was awesome to watch (even if some of the audience nearest him didn’t seem too pleased to put in the middle of the action). Mathieu Desseigne Ravel and Ross McCormack’s pas de deux was also great, and Kaori Ito did amazing work throughout. Romeu Runa, who wears a pair of headphones throughout, often performs with a sort of drunken rock star swagger somewhere between Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger.

On the face of it, the connection between the work and Pina Bausch’s (if there is one, beyond simply being dedicated to her) isn’t easy to discern. I’m sure with enough time, I could come up with something that’s probably B.S., so I’ll just skip over it. Platel’s vision has a sort of wholesomeness to it that’s surprising and compelling; he runs his company through a huge number of emotional and physical states, including infancy. With all nine dancers lying on their stomachs and bundled up in their blankets, two women bring out a pair of infants, who, to oohs! and aaahs! crawl about, pawing the dancers’ faces and tugging hair.

Children are always a risky business, constantly risking sliding into preciosity. Honestly, I did feel a bit like that was the case, but it was cute either way and even if it does strike you as a too-easy pan to the audience, the work overall still makes up for it.

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