Entertainment: Ballets Jazz Montreal pays homage to Leonard Cohen

I have a bucket list. I hold my bucket list very dear because the older I get and the more the years tick on by, the more I want to see what I have done. I "measure" each passing year by the amount of bucket list items I have managed to scratch off of it (in a very not judgemental way).

So today I got to dance with famous dancers. I was led by Jeremy Raia, who retired a few months ago from a stellar career as premiere soloist with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. I, along with many other bloggers and journalists, was given the opportunity to follow a typical warm-up session that the professional Ballet Jazz de Montreal dancers follow before rehearsing for Dance Me - Music of Leonard Cohen. This was a bucket list moment.

Artistic Director Louis Robitaille welcomed all of the media and, during his welcome speech, compared practicing for a ballet to the advertisement for the cough syrup that states "It tastes awful but it works". He said this with a smile and then invited us to choose a spot at the barre.

I chose a spot right next to Céline Cassone, Principle Artist for BJM. With her flaming red hair and vibrant smile, there is a warmth there which made me feel right at home. I grabbed the barre, she smiled at me, and told me that she would follow me! Uh oh! We were definitely in trouble!

Jeremy Raia led the warm-up beautifully. He was charming and played off of the nervousness of the guests. There was at least one professional BJM dancer at every barre so everyone was able to follow along easily (albeit clumsily). We went through several very basic warm-ups (I remember from my former ballet days many, many moons ago). It was delightful to watch the seemingly simply warm-up moves being practiced so effortlessly by the dancers and so awkwardly by the rest of us. Ballet is a true art form.

So, 45 minutes later, we were released from what I felt was heaven but others might have found grueling. I could have danced with Celine and Jeremy for hours more. I may not have performed the moves correctly, but I was definitely a flawless admirer!

At the end, Celine confided in the bloggers at her barre that, after a 3 day break from performing and dancing, her body felt stiff and difficult. But her radiant smile told a different story. Maybe her body was rebelling against more grueling and rigorous exercise, but her mind and spirit were aching to be back where they were.

And that is the takeaway from dancing with them. All of them. They are a warm and gracious family. The shared passion and need for dance bind them closer than blood and friendship. They smile easily and share inside jokes. They tease each other freely. I am jealous.

When asked about BJM, Celine is quotes as saying: "As the principle dancer, there is a feeling that you have to lead by example but when I am on stage I'm not thinking that I am the principle dancer, we are a group. [...] BJ is not just one person, it is the energy of the team that makes it into what it is today."

Well Celine and Jeremy and Louis Robitaille have achieved something in which to be truly proud. The energy of the team truly embodies why it was an honour to dance with them today, however briefly. And no, M. Robitaille, the ballet is not like a cough medicine. (Please forgive my impertinence.) But the fever to dance needs no cure. It may be difficult and strenuous and hard but the faces of both the dancers and the bloggers today were filled with a hunger that needs only to be fed with more and more dance.

- Sarah Birtwistle

Check out BJM's Dance Me, featuring songs by Leonard Cohen, March 14-23 at Place des Arts.

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