In 1972, Ballets Jazz Montreal was founded, and has been creating high caliber, contemporary dance pieces for over 48 years. In 1973, now Artistic Director of the company, Louis Robataille, received a scholarship to take part in Ballets Jazz Montreal’s summer training program. After dancing with the company and many others for 25 years, in 1998, Robataille accepted the honour of being named Ballets Jazz Montreal Artistic Director, where he redefined the company itself, creating a contemporary identity for the dance company. In 2017, the company premiered Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me and are touring the now iconic performance, stopping at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on February 23.
You’ve spent your whole life in dance, starting early in high school and travelling the world, and now you’ve been Artistic Director for Ballets Jazz Montreal [BJM] for over twenty years. How would you describe your ascent in your career and how have you seen the world of dance change?
Very shortly, my life is kind of ordinary. I’ve been in this business for more than 45 years. I started very young. I came to dance kind of late, and did most of my career here in Montreal. I was one of the first students to receive a grant from BJM. Then one day, when I was almost 40 years old, I received a call one day offering the responsibility of artistic activities of BJM. During that time, I’ve watched the evolution of dance, and it has changed tremendously. BJM used to be a jazz dance company, but now we’re definitely a contemporary or fusion dance company. We are working to involve different art disciplines into dance creation.
When you took over as Artistic Director, was in important to you to make the company more contemporary with the changing of both time and technology?
Well, we used to be a little bit more focused on ballet, I would say. But, all the creation and production is developed from techniques used in ballet. But now, we do all styles of dance and everything can be part of the creation. So, now we have to find artists that are quite versatile that have a great ability to adapt themselves to different styles of dance and different dance languages from each choreographer.
What was it like to create Dance Me?
It was the most ambitious project in the history of the company. It was quite a headache sometimes. We’ve been through many challenges with this production, but we wanted that. We wanted to see how far we could go with the creation of the. We mixed the choreography between three choreographers, but there’s a lot of theatre transitions and dramatic lines. There were many collaborators that gave their input, so it was, for myself, quite difficult to keep my vision for the production. It was very difficult and tough, but it was a great experience.
You’ve been touring this work for over two years now, how has the show developed over time and what can audiences expect from the production?
I would say that the show has become more refined. Sometimes we find little details that we change a little bit, but the production has matured in two years. Audiences are going to see something that will hopefully move them, because above all, BJM has a reputation for being very entertaining. We are a cerebral and visceral company, and our goal is to make people forget about their problems for the time of the performance. With Mr. Leonard Cohen as the highlight of the evening, you can imagine that we are diving deep into emotions.
Finally, what was your relationship with Mr. Cohen?
Not personal unfortunately. This project was accepted and supported by Mr. Leonard Cohen himself, but we had most of the conversations through his lawyer, his agent and his son Adam Cohen. I never had the chance to talk to him directly, we were always communicated through email. I almost believe that this project wouldn’t have happened without his support. Getting the rights to his music was a nightmare until the moment Mr. Cohen accepted it. He sent us a wish list and we made it our goal to stay honest to Mr. Cohen and to highlight his life work. Suddenly, one morning before we even started working in the studio, we received the news that he had passed away. It was a really sad moment because we thought he would live forever and see the creation, but it didn’t happen. But, we’ve felt like he’s been with us ever since.
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love.” – Leonard Cohen