‘Approximately Close’ evokes the magic of in-person performances

On Nov. 19, Ballets Jazz Montreal dance company performed Approximately Close—Quand le temps n’est presque plus, choreographed by Ermanno Sbezzo. The performance allowed dancers to express themselves safely during a disappointing season. In the midst of the pandemic, online performances have struggled to recreate the magic of set designs, costuming, lighting, and other important elements of live performance. Approximately Close was an exception to this shortcoming, as it was a fully produced performance filmed on stage, making it reminiscent of the live experiences that audiences remember so vividly. 

Ballets Jazz Montréal is known for precision, technique, and effortless execution in their performances. Though the company focusses on contemporary dance, all their dancers receive professional ballet training, and guest choreographers are given creative freedom to develop their artistic skills with some of the most talented dancers in the country. 

Approximately Close skillfully used a variety of props, costume changes, and lighting effects to emulate the changing mood of each number. Some numbers were whimsical and playful while others had a more intense and urgent feeling to them. The show opened on an eerie dimly lit stage with one man skipping rope, another riding a small tricycle, and a woman dressed as a clown. In the background, a lone swing swayed in the breeze while a couple kissed under strobe lights. This strange and creepy introduction successfully grasped the audience’s attention by evoking a scene from a circus of a bygone era. 

As the dancers moved in sync, their energy and attention to detail was undeniable: The dancers articulated each movement of intricate choreography with controlled precision. Powder was used as a prop throughout the show which, in combination with the bright spotlights, created an ethereal echo of the dancer’s movements. Many numbers also featured flashlights, forming dynamic light beams on the stage.

The use of props and lighting effects can sometimes distract from the performers, but //Approximately Close//’s production effectively enhanced the focus on the dancers. The dancers’ simple costumes, composed of black slacks and neutral add-ons, invited the audience to decipher the feeling of the piece based mostly on the choreography and effects. One group number used music with a heavy bass line and red lighting to create a sense of urgency, matching the expressive and energetic choreography.

The emotional final duet depicted the experience of caring for a loved one who is physically or mentally unwell. In one moment, the woman dancer carries the male dancer to depict the burden that many feel they place on their loved ones when they are suffering. The dancers moved as one unit with impressive synchrony. The piece ended tragically as the woman picked up the man’s limp body that could no longer bear his suffering as the stage, which was covered in snowflakes, faded to black. 

Approximately Close was a much-needed spectacle that evoked the in-person mysticism that audiences have missed from live performances. Props, lighting, and music successfully accented the dancers’ technical precision and energy. The show provided a sense of comfort for many struggling through the isolation of the pandemic. Approximately Close was a beautiful moment of unity between creatives, keeping the arts alive. 

The full performance of Approximately Close is archived on YouTube free of charge.

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