3e étage not your typical night at the ballet

The dance group 3e étage includes members of the Paris Opera Ballet, including (from left) Ludmila Pagliero, Samuel Murez, and Takeru Coste. The dance group 3e étage includes members of the Paris Opera Ballet, including (from left) Ludmila Pagliero, Samuel Murez, and Takeru Coste. (Cherylynn Tsushima)
By Janine Parker
Globe Correspondent / August 6, 2011

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BECKET - The group 3e étage, made up of world-class dancers borrowed from the Paris Opera Ballet, is making its US debut at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week. In the program’s 10 dances, these supreme descendants of the classical line ply their virtuosity with both jaw-dropping elan and unaffected miens.

Director and dancer Samuel Murez attempts to establish a thread that connects the pieces, first by naming the program - “Disorders’’ - and then by inserting a series of darkly comic entr’actes, so that most of the dances become more like scenes in a play and less like individual pieces. The conceit is mostly successful, but less would be more: more time to digest and savor.

Murez may not have edited the overall program much, but he shows no mercy with the individual dances. Many of them end almost mid-thought, tantalizing teasers, seven of which are choreographed by him (two under a pseudonym, Raul Zeummes). The program’s other works - Richard Siegal’s staccato and casual quartet “For Hands’’; Ben van Cauwenbergh’s solo (danced Wednesday with insouciant wizardry by François Alu) “Les Bourgeois’’; and an excerpt from William Forsythe’s almost chilly “Limb’s Theorem’’ - are mixed in and marched briskly by.

If the pieces inevitably blur in the process, the dancers, with their exceptional clarity, don’t.

The opener, “La Valse Infernale,’’ evokes a ballet class, but Zuemmes (Murez) skips the barre work and shoots his dancers out at warp speed. The stage glows with the unmistakable authority of serious classical training. The two women (Ludmila Pagliero and Laura Hecquet) and three men (Alu, Allister Madin, and Simone Valastro) turn and jump like indefatigable tops. Because the men jump with huge ballon, there’s time to see the craft in their entrechats and coupè-jetès. The women’s taut, crisp legwork is complemented by the fluid curve and carriage of their upper bodies.

“Valse’’ is a follow-up to Zuemmes’s 2006 “Quatre’’ (on Wednesday performed as “Trois’’ because of an injury), an even more unabashedly bravura turn for the “Valse’’ men, although this time they are wearing a bit more costume. Pompously empty gestures playfully send up everything that can be wrong about ballet, and more thrillingly in-the-moment dancing demonstrates everything that can be right about it.

But this is no typical night at the ballet: Unusual theatrical hijinks are added to the mix. In the entr’actes and in “me2’’ and “me9,’’ lovable, melancholy mimes shuffle in a Nixonian posture - slumped upper backs, chins jutting forward - their arms and hands amphibiously waving like fins. Murez himself plays the Trickster, an eerie (and murderous, it turns out) master of ceremonies-god-puppetmaster who appears throughout the program, propelling and affecting the action.

In Murez’s 2006 “Èpiphènoménes,’’ the Trickster amuses himself by first affecting a romance between two unwitting victims and then tiring of them when they quarrel. Two minions, Ivan and Igor the gravediggers, murmuring and cooing like deranged Munchkins, drag the first of many bodies - some lifeless, some just spent - out of the way.

“Processes of Intricacy’’ is Murez’s ode to his field, and to his colleagues. With only the sounds of Pagliero’s and Takeru Coste’s breathing, the squeak and swish of their slippers against the marley, and a few lighting cues spoken by an unseen stage technician, this isn’t so much a dance as a loving backstage look at the human rigor and commitment it takes to create such superhuman beauty. So you think you can dance? Some things are best left to the professionals.

Janine Parker can be reached at

3E �TAGE At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, Wednesday (through Sunday). Tickets: $59.50-$64.50. 413-243-0745,