Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Louise Lecavalier: Still Crazy (But More Glorious) After All These Years

We are pleased to welcome a new critic, Deirdre Kelly, to our group.

Louise Lecavalier & Keir Knight (Photo : Massimo Chiarradia)
Dancer Louise Lecavalier's new company is Fou Glorieux, which roughly translated as "glorious craziness." And the craziest thing about it? How mind-blowingly good it is. Fou Glorieux is contemporary Canadian dance at its most kinetically expressive, if not poetically potent. The reason is Lecavalier, the diminutive dynamo whose kamikaze dance style helped make Édouard Lock's La La La Human Steps an international cause célèbre throughout the 1980s and 1990s when she was the Montreal choreographer's hard-bodied, platinum blonde star and muse.

More than a decade after breaking with Lock, the fiftysomething mother of nine year old twin girls is today using her energies to propel her own engine forward. As such Fou Glorieux, which she founded in 2006 to enable her to collaborate with a new and rotating crop of international choreographers, represents her comeback, and with a bang. Her company's Toronto debut last week at the Fleck Dance Theatre, as part of Harbourfront Centre's ongoing World Stage series, was greeted by capacity crowds that erupted in standing ovations for each night of the four-performance run. Their enthusiasm was understandably directed at Lecavalier, a dancer of incomparable style and presence a true original whose physical prowess, not to mention unstoppable energy, kept the eye riveted.

Louise Lecavalier & Keir Knight (Photo : Massimo Chiarradia)
But also commanding attention was Children, a maverick work of physical theatre by Britain's Nigel Charnock using fast-paced movement, iconic gesture, martial arts, pillows and water bottles as props and crying babies as part of its eclectic sound score to explore the frenetic, complex, erotically challenged and emotionally raw life of a couple trying to stay together for the sake of their offspring. Children dominated the intermissionless 75-minute program whose only other work was A Few Minutes of Lock, a brief but intense reprise of greatest hits from Lecavalier's La La La Human Steps days, featuring moodily lit, precisely danced excerpts from Salt (1998) and 2 (1995) set to a hard-strumming electric guitar by Iggy Pop. Wearing little more than a black leotard that dramatically showed off her chiselled, muscular body, Lecavalier danced the Lock excerpts solo and with partner Keir Knight, attired in a man's black suit, who deftly lifted and turned her, sometimes suspending her above the floor in an act of seeming levitation, making her look fragile in spite of her strength.

The human spitfire also danced Children solo and with fellow dancer Patrick Lamothe, the male half of a dance that could just as easily have been called Portrait of a Contemporary Marriage. The couple's intertwined duets, some depicting Lecavalier fully supporting the full weight of her big hulk of a partner, others showing Lamothe lying prostate on the ground to block her from striding away from him into the wings, presented male-female domesticity as a relationship based on co-dependence and denial, love, vulnerability and frustration. Alain Lortie's stark square box lighting design caged some of the duets, making the closeness between the characters feel claustrophobic if not suffocating. But there was no escaping the bonds of responsibility.

Lecavalier & Lamothe, Children (Photo : Massimo Chiarradia)
Throughout the roughly 60-minute piece, Lecavalier was constantly in motion, sometimes rushing about the stage on all fours like a trapped animal, propelled by the shrill tick-tock scream of a siren that jarred the nerves but also made the point that life is like a time bomb, waiting to explode in a climax of sorts. In this case it was a frenzied shower from water bottles that each dancer simultaneously poured over the other's head.

Sometimes the quotidian battle seemed too much: Lecavalier standing with arms stretched out to either side of her fine-toned body like the sign of the cross or else suddenly going rag-doll limp in the arms of her partner who desperately roughly shakes her, willing her back to the land of the living. That atmosphere of panic, if not existential fear, was softened by Charnock's wittily edited music choices, from operatic arias to pop songs whose lyrics amplified, sometimes to humorous effect, the domestic drama being played out in movement. Tracks included excerpts from Janis Joplin's version of "Piece of My Heart" and Maria Callas singing Puccini's Tosca, hurtin' songs as interpreted by real-life female tragedies that satirized the gender relations at the root of the piece. But it was the dancing that most compelled.

Dancer Louise Lecavalier
Paying no heed to her advancing years, Lecavalier, her long hair still wildly flying, catapulted herself through the air, executing sideways rolls and devouring every inch of the stage with a body that continuously moved, even in those rare moments when she stood still. This was the Louise Lecavalier of old, a dancer of such searing stage presence that David Bowie invited her to perform as part of his 1990 global Sound and Vision tour. Dancing before thousands in stadiums around the world was no doubt a wonderful opportunity for Lecavalier, enabling her to spread her iconoclastic dance message to the masses as it were. But seeing her now, in an intimate space like the 446-seat Fleck Dance Theatre, it is clear that it also cheated audiences from seeing how nuanced a dancer she is. As a performer, Lecavalier is more than derring-do.

As this program demonstrated, she is also a gifted silent actress, in the vulnerably comedic Charlie Chaplin sense of the word, capable of using subtle sideways glances or slight curves of the mouth to communicate volumes about the emotional depth behind the propulsive movement. That's not crazy. That's an artist who knows exactly what she's doing.

–  Deirdre Kelly is a journalist (The Globe and Mail) and internationally recognized dance critic. She is also the author of the national best-selling memoir, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre). Visit her website for more information, www.deirdrekelly.com.

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