Ryan Chartrand

Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montreal’s performance of “Minus One,” by Ohad Naharin, began with a lone man in a suit dancing like a CEO whose company just made the Fortune 500 list as people filed into their seats in the Christopher Cohan Center’s Harman Hall.

Soon, he was joined by a crowd of suits who were doing a more restrained I-need-to-go-to-the-bathroom wiggle before bursting into chaos and then synchronized leaps. The curtain closed on the initial dancer screaming at the audience.

“Minus One” is a contemporary piece by internationally-renowned Israeli choreographer Naharin, who specially designed the performance for Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens. “Minus One” came to San Luis Obispo as a part of Cal Poly Arts’ “Great Performances” series, which allows students to see events at the Performing Arts Center for only $5.

The performance was a spectacular gamut of emotions, as displayed by Hebrew chants, a playful, morning-after pas de deux between lovers, a singing she-devil in sparkling black spandex and red-booted stilts and a piece that featured the dancers’ individual confessions and stories.

Toward the end of the show, the performers left the stage and brought audience members onto the stage to dance with them to an electronica version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and some salsa music. Throughout most of the performance, the often barefoot dancers brought sensuality and playfulness to everything they did.

Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, Canada’s premier dance company, was founded in 1957 by Ludmilla Chiriaeff. Since then, it has had many famous dancers like Fernand Nault, James Kudelka, Edouard Lock and Ginette Laurin.

The company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has toured extensively all over the world. It has also performed at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts for two consecutive years.

Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens has performed everything from classics by George Balanchine, Kurt Jooss, Vaslav Nijinsky and many others.

Vincent Warren was a former principal dancer for the company who started dancing for it in 1961 “I saw the company for the first time in 1960,” Warren said in a Montreal Gazette article. “Before I saw them dance, I thought the name was tacky – so pretentious. But I was really impressed. They were a neat and clean company with very good taste.”

Naharin, who studied at Juilliard School of Music, has performed in Europe and America. He was also the art director of Batsheva Dance Company in Israel, and is now its house choreographer.

Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens’ current artistic director, Gradimir Pankov, has been a guest instructor for the Paris Opera Ballet, the Lyon Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater and the American Ballet Theatre.

“My vision is simple,” Pankov said. “I will keep searching for the unknown – looking for ways to move differently.”

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