Wednesday, January 21, 2015

PuSh 2015: Louise Lecavalier

Even standing on her head, Louise Lecavalier is mesmerizing. With her long platinum blonde dreadlocks, bulging biceps and quads, and trademark mid-air barrel rolls, Lecavalier seared herself into the collective consciousness of both dance and pop culture audiences in the 1980s as the principal dancer for Édouard Lock's La La La Human Steps and the star of music videos by David Bowie. Now in her mid-50s, and following major hip surgery several years ago, Lecavalier and her company Fou Glorieux are in town with So Blue, a co-presentation of the PuSh Festival, DanceHouse and SFU Woodward's 149 Arts Society. Sixty minutes of non-stop, full-out movement set to a pulsating electronic score by Mercan Dede, the piece is a testament to Lecavalier's unique and undiminished gifts: her fearless sense of risk; her disciplined technique; her ferocious energy; and, above all, her commanding rapport with the audience.

So Blue's Vancouver premiere is a treat for another reason, for it marks Lecavalier's debut, as it were, as a solo choreographer. Lecavalier formed Fou Glorieux in 2006 as a means to work, as a mature dancer, with artists whose vision aligned with hers, collaborating with choreographers like Benoît Lachambre, Crystal Pite, Tedd Robinson, the late Nigel Charnock, and even her former partner Lock on a series of solos and duets that have toured North America and Europe (a double bill of Charnock's Children and Lock's A Few Minutes of Lock was presented by DanceHouse here in Vancouver in 2011). While Lecavalier was very much an active partner in the creation of these works, with So Blue the concept and choreography are all her own. And what they reveal is a dance artist fully attuned to just how far beyond our imagined limits she can push her body in time and space.

The work begins with the houselights up. Lecavalier enters discreetly, almost surreptitiously, upstage right and takes a seat on a chair. Her hair, still bright blonde, is shorter now, cut into an asymmetrical bob; she is much tinier than I remember in my imagination. At a certain point, she gets up and moves downstage into a square of light that frames a jagged bit of tape on the floor; she leans into a lunge, the music starts, and then she is off. Her feet shuffle back and forth, left and right, sending her across the stage as if on an invisible conveyor belt. A single leg pulses and shakes for what seems like a full minute before alighting almost weightlessly on the stage floor. Hips twist, arms rotate, knees bend, the head bobs: during this opening sequence Lecavalier's whole body is in constant motion, as if the music has entered her like an electric current and she will not stop moving until she has expended every last ounce of this surplus kinetic energy. It was a force that could be palpably felt in the audience, as for the first ten minutes of the piece, while Lecavalier is moving frenetically, but also with incredibly virtuosity, across the stage, it seemed as if we had all taken a collective inhalation of breath, which we only let out once Lecavalier paused and dropped to the floor.

Which brings me to that headstand. It comes as such an unexpected but gratefully received gift as, from a crouched position on the floor, Lecavalier slowly raises first one and then the other of her legs into full and perfectly ramrod verticality. And there she remains, the headstand less a look-at-me/look-at-what-I-can-do stunt than a moment of rest and syncopated connection between performer and audience.  By that I mean that with the music having cut out at this point, and with Lecavalier's t-shirt having fallen down around her shoulders to reveal her bare torso, we become transfixed by the convex and concave pulsing of her famously chiseled abdomen as she breathes in and out, in and out, revealing to us that dance is as much about the internal rhythms of the body as it is about the external expression of those rhythms. Not that Lecavalier remains stock still throughout this sequence. Towards the end, she begins to slowly move her legs back and forth, while still balancing on her head, a statue brought back to life.

The second half of So Blue comprises a series of "failed" duets with Frédéric Tavernini, an incredibly tall and long-limbed dancer who arrives on stage almost as a provocation to Lecavalier (he even has a similar haircut), the two of them shimmying back and forth in rectangles of light centre stage, coming closer and closer, but never fully connecting--almost like positive and negative charges of energy. It's only after Tavernini's second appearance that we get some actual partnering between the dancers--but even here this is preceded by a deliberately awkward sequence in which Lecavalier and Tavernini mime confusion about who is supposed to embrace and lead, or spin, or be lifted by whom. Featuring some vaguely Lock-like quick turns, I read this bit as witty nod to Lecavalier's early career and the way in which her androgyny and physicality challenged entrenched gendered norms of modern dance.

Whether this was intentional or not, the piece as a whole is a triumph and confirms that Lecavalier's iconicity as a dance artist is complete: this uncompromising and unparalleled mover is now also a choreographer of extraordinary talent. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.


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