Dance

B

For two trail-blazing choreographers from Quebec, the message is in the muscles

SUE FERGUSON January 26 2004
Dance

B

For two trail-blazing choreographers from Quebec, the message is in the muscles

SUE FERGUSON January 26 2004

B

For two trail-blazing choreographers from Quebec, the message is in the muscles

Dance

SUE FERGUSON

TWENTY YEARS ago, a generation of bold young Quebecers began redefining the performing arts. Theatre visionaries such as Robert Lepage and Gilles Maheu incorporated dance and other disciplines into visually astonishing spectacles. A street performer named Guy Laliberté reinvented the big top with Cirque du Soleil. Choreographers including Marie Chouinard, Ginette Laurin, Édouard Lock and Daniel Léveillé became forces in the avant-garde dance scene here and, according to some connoisseurs, put Canada on the map of modern dance. All are still going strong, with Lock and Léveillé just returning from triumphant, year-and-a-half circuits through Europe.

Domestic audiences will soon have a chance to see why Lock and Léveillé continue to be visionaries of dance: the two choreographers begin the Canadian legs of their separate, three-year tours in Vancouver during the next few weeks. The artists, who apprenticed in the same Montreal company, Le Groupe Nouvelle Aire, stand out for consistently “pushing the envelope of contemporary dance,” says National Arts Centre dance producer Cathy Levy. They’ve “shaken the roots of their past,” she continues, “and created new styles, new looks, new ideas for how the body moves in space, and how it expresses issues, ideas, sentiments.”

In their most recent works, however, the body is not simply the medium—it’s the message. In one sequence of Léveillé’s Amour, acide et noix (Love, Acid and Nuts, opening on Feb. 17 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, and later visiting Edmonton and Toronto), for instance, a woman stiffly raises her right arm timed to the short breaths she’s taking in through her mouth. She then uses that arm to propel the rest of her body into a swift, graceful spin, landing in an arabesque—a position she abruptly breaks, replacing it with the crouch of a

sprinter preparing to start a race. An arrangement of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons featuring an exquisite violin solo spills out from the sound system.

The woman and the piece’s three other male dancers are—from beginning to end of the hour-long performance—naked. The effect is to contrast the tender, vulnerable body (the nudity emphasizes the soft texture of the skin and the gentle pulsating of the abdomen) with the unrelenting trials of life (represented by both the athleticism of the

poses and the sense of thwarted promise that seems to run through the dancers’ interactions). Léveillé decided to remove all the dancers’ clothing only late in the day, one month before completing the dance. The choreographer is pleased—if a little surprised—at the critical support for his decision: not one review has suggested the nudity is inappropriate. “The piece is totally different when you put clothes on,” he reflects. “Especially if you put small clothes on, like a swimming suit. That just looks sexy. What

you see when they are nude is truth. They can’t hide.”

Lock too wants to strip the body of all symbolism. “When we sit down and have a cup of coffee,” he comments, “10 per cent has to do with lifting the cup to your lips, and 90 per cent has to do with presenting yourself in a way that you feel represents yourself—even when you’re alone.” He adds, “We’re able to seamlessly function in— but we don’t necessarily understand—the body.” InAmelia (opening on Jan. 22 in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and travelling to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal), Lock too disrupts the take-it-for-grantedness of the way we perceive (he might say fail to perceive) the body, although his approach is more stylized than Léveillé’s. Nine dancers come and go, creating a sense of complex, layered interactions. In one scene, a woman standing behind a kneeling man repeatedly—and with lightning speed—runs her hand across his brow and chin. Just as rapidly, she raises her hand to her own brow, mouth and temples, suggesting the unconscious, everyday act of smoothing her hair behind her ears. The performers then break into a short, speedy pas de deux before repeating the first sequence. A pounding, frenetic piano-cello duet by David Lang drives the action. In another scene, a dancer performs a

bourrée (alternating steps on pointe) so quickly, her legs actually appear to wobble. Lace cages and elusive lighting make it difficult to get a clear, unencumbered view. Lock’s combination of exaggerated, almost obsessional, movements and staging techniques prevents the audience from assuming a simple, unconscious empathy with the dancer. We’re forced, in a way, to think about the body—its functions, its superfluous movements and its limits.

Lock and Léveillé not only have very different choreographic sensibilities; they’ve also taken radically different career paths. After establishing himself as, in his words, “one of the hot guys in Montreal” in the early 1980s, Léveillé gave up touring. He opted, instead, to teach—he’s a dance professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal—and, with the company he established in 1991 (Daniel Léveillé nouvelle danse), mount short-run productions for local audiences. As such, says Levy, “he’s influenced many, many people who’ve danced and studied with him.” Working largely with dancers between 19 and 25, he’s developed a fascination with youth and the intensity of their emotional lives. Amour, like his 1998 production, Utopie (Utopia), explores issues of desire and risk-taking. “I like that crazy savage energy,” says the 51-year-old. The audience does too: it was the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the piece’s 2001 premiere that convinced Léveillé to take Amour on the road.

Meanwhile, Lock, 49, has strayed much further from home. He formed LockDanseurs (the forerunner to his current company, La La La Human Steps) in 1980, and has since spent much of his time and energy abroad. In the process, he’s earned an international reputation as “one of the pillars of contemporary art,” according to one Moscow dance critic. And, says Levy, Lock’s paved the way for his compatriots—“There’s a very large market now for Canadian choreographers in Europe.” Quebec dance troupes used to predominate in that market, something Levy attributes to the province’s artists feeling they were “breaking with tradition,” as well as “a very strong commitment” to funding dance in Quebec. But, adds Levy, today in Europe “you could just as well run into the Toronto Dance Theatre, Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot or The Holy Body Tattoo from Vancouver.” Now Canadians have a chance to check out the pioneers. lifl