Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mesmerizing Motion: Interview with Louise Lecavalier

Louise Lecavalier first made her mark in 1988 as the lead member of Montreal’s internationally celebrated contemporary dance company, La La La Human Steps, executing airborne barrel rolls and other gravity-defying manoeuvres with the speed and stealth of a human torpedo. Born in Montreal in 1958, the dancer once called “a flame on legs” had originally studied classical ballet and modern dance, becoming a professional at 19 when she joined Quebec’s now defunct, Le Groupe de Nouvelle Aire. There, she met fellow dancer Édouard Lock who found in her petite but powerful physique all the inspiration he needed to become a world renowned choreographer with Lecavalier as his steady partner in creation.

Lock and Lecavalier became one of those once-in-a-lifetime dance partnerships; he tirelessly invented, and she fearlessly executed anything he threw at her, including air pirouettes and hard crashes to the ground. Together, they invented a new, and Canadian-made, theatricalized slam-dancing aesthetic that became widely imitated. But no one could replicate Lecavalier. Few had her strength or stamina. By age 32, Canada’s first contemporary dance superstar was making international headlines with her striking platinum blonde looks, powerhouse body and mesmerizing androgynous presence. In 1985, she became the first Canadian to win a prestigious Bessie Award in New York for her hyper-athletic performance in Lock’s 1983 work, Businessman in the Process of Becoming an Angel. She had won fans around the world dancing as part of David Bowie’s stadium rock tour in 1990, and Frank Zappa's The Yellow Shark concert series in Germany with the classical group, the Ensemble Modern, in 1992. Months after her 40th birthday, in 1999 Lecavalier quit La La La Human Steps to start a family and a new phase of her career, first as an independent dancer, and then, as of 2006, as artistic director of her own Montreal production company, Fou Glorieux, showcasing work made for and performed by her on the international stage. In 2008, Lecavalier was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and last year, she received a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in Dance. At age 56, the force of nature (and mother of teenage twin girls) is still performing. This month, she brings her solo show, So Blue, which features her own choreography, to Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre for two shows only, May 29 and 30. In anticipation, Deirdre Kelly recently caught up with Lecavalier to find out how she keeps the creative fires burning.

Louise Lecavalier with David Bowie in 1988. (Photo: Anton Corbijn)

dk: You’ve recently begun to choreograph works for yourself and by yourself. What made you want to become your own muse?

ll: While working with other choreographers, I got caught up in the action and momentum of creation. I was kind of unaware that I was slowly taking this next big step. Then people very close to me said I had to make my own work. They believed in my capacity to do it, and they’d seen me do it for others. So, with a tipsy confidence, I finally took up the challenge. Now I’m addicted to searching for the right movement by myself in the studio.

dk: You and Édouard Lock, artistic director of La La La Human Steps, had a remarkable creative partnership for close to 18 years. But then you parted ways—a split that could be seen as the dance-world equivalent of the Lennon-McCartney breakup. What happened?

ll: There was a philosophical connection between Édouard and me. It might be why I felt totally creative and free and able to simply be myself in the whole process. We inspired each other from different angles. But by 1999, I was injured, and La La La was becoming a ballet company. I didn’t have enough to do anymore in the shows. I had also fallen in love with someone outside the company, and was thinking about having a child. And then I had two.

dk: When did you decide to return to the stage?

ll: Three weeks after my twin daughters were born. Their immense beauty and perfection was so gigantic that there was no way I could communicate what I was feeling with words. So I wrote a project outline and applied for a grant in September 2001. It was just after they were born, and just before the twin towers collapsed in New York. I had no money, and a broken hip. But I also had so much joy that I wanted to give back to the universe which could not be expressed in words. I desperately wanted to dance again.

dk: How do you choose the works you perform today?

ll: I choose the people, not the works. The works happen.

Louise Lecavalier.

dk: Some might describe your movement style as aggressive. How do you see it?

ll: Aggressive? I’m not sure. I once trained with a professional boxer, and although I was fast and tireless, I was never aggressive when sparring. I said sorry after every hit. I feel no aggression while I’m dancing—it’s not a quality I admire or search for. I would say more that I am combative when it comes to fighting what you can’t see: gravity, immobility, laziness. I fight against the limitations of my thoughts, and the restricted movements of my changing body. I am a strange warrior.

dk: It is amazing that you are able to keep up the pace well into your 50s. What’s your secret?

ll: It is a mind thing. The body just has to follow.

dk: What’s next?

ll: I’m still working on my solo show, So Blue, which is currently touring in Québec and will soon travel to the U.S., China, parts of Europe, São Paulo and other cities. I’m also going back into the studio, improvising as I slowly develop material for a new piece—hopefully, that is.

dk: It all sounds exhilarating, but does it top dancing with David Bowie?

ll: Viewed from the outside, dancing in his Sound and Vision tour may look like it was a big break. But it was more like a nice pause from the rigours of constant creation, and shared with the sexiest performer you can imagine. About dancing in front of millions of screaming fans? Yes, it is a big kick. It gives you wings on stage. But it also demands such a push of energy to fill those huge stadiums with your presence. You could never sustain it for a whole dance show. And even if I could imagine being seduced by crowds screaming for me in adoration, night after night, dancing for a more silent and intimate audience in the theatre is somewhat more magical. It’s more real.

– Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazette in London, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic from 1985 until 2001 before transitioning to the Style section as the fashion reporter. She has also served as the paper's rock critic and as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, recently re-released in paperback, she writes on dance, theatre, the visual arts and fashion for Critics At Large

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