At Jacob's Pillow: 3e Etage is Dancing with glee at the Shawn

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BECKET -- The members of 3e Étage: Soloists and Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet appear to be enjoying their work more than just about anyone we've watched this season at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

And why shouldn't they be gleeful? Anything surely would bring more satisfaction than some of those frequently ridiculous routines opera dancers are compelled to perform in the requisite "Aidas," "Giocondas," et. al., just to pacify the demands of jaded, dance obsessed Parisian opera buffs.

Named for the third floor of the City of Light's grand Palais Garnier, where dancers are assigned dressing rooms, 3e Étage is directed by Samuel Murez, the company's ambitious artistic director, and very much a participating dancer, who seeks to make his art relevant in the contemporary world without compromising the complexity and demanding nature of classical ballet, he suggests in a program note.

Returning to the Pillow following the company's U.S. debut two years ago, Murez, a Frenchman of American parentage, has fashioned "Le Pillow Thirteen," a piece he said was inspired by his earlier impressions of the Ted Shawn Theatre, where it is being presented through Sunday. The work offers a series of interwoven scenes cinematic in character, especially honoring early cinema clearly admired by Murez, and his choreographic efforts, accommodated in two compact, easy-to-watch acts, are funny, spectacular, silly, and generally quite entertaining.

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Murez portrays a recurring character, The Trickster, a weird shadowy figure -- a combination emcee, puppet master and murderous devil, as the first scene's title, "Mephisto," suggests. With Liszt's eponymous keyboard score propelling action, some fine crisp movements are provided by François Alu, Jérémy-Loup Quer and Fabien Révillion, perhaps to assure that we are watching a ballet company.

Along the way, in a series of Chaplinesque scenes largely accompanied by piano scores of Beethoven, Brahms and others rolled out in Nickelodeon style, we meet more characters devised by Murez, mostly in mime fashion -- that allows not only a full grasp of the immense individual charms and skills of the dancers, but also the revelation that they are superb actors as well: Cassandra (Lydie Vareilhes), the reluctant suitor with a build-in rejection charge; Pierre, the hapless innocent, portrayed by Hugo Viglietti, who in other scenes proves himself a comedian of the first order, and Louis (Matthieu Botto), the other guy.

Murez and Vigliotti provide a hilarious romp to spoken text by Raymond Federman, the French-American novelist, in the sequence, "Me2," and if one fails to assimilate the crisp English delivery, Federman's self-possessed declamation is reiterated in rapid-fire French.

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Murez offers a tribute to his art with the delicate and complex a cappella pas de deux, "Processes of Intricacy," with Laura Hecquet and Takeru Coste displaying the supreme effort required in executing dance. With no musical covering, their intense breathing and the slides and squeaks of their ballet shoes on the dance floor are heard, along with some off-stage lighting cues, including the ominous blackout order a second before it terminates the proceedings.

The rigid traditions of ballet have some moments of tongue-in-cheek risibility from Murez in "Quatre," as four dancers François Alu, Fabien Révillion, Botto and Vigliotti vie in dazzling contests of soaring entrechats and wild coupés jetés. Later, the final bows were choreographed with a similar jest-filled mimic of ballet custom.

In "Le Pillow Thirteen," Murez created much for the eye to behold and in which to find amusement at Wednesday evening's opening. His total immersion in the scenario is palpable, as he suggests in a preface: "Which scenes are performed and the order they are performed in, depends on how the characters are feeling that night.


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