PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver
January 20, 2015
There was nothing definitive about Louise Lecavalier’s So Blue that I could tweet in less than 140 characters. It bore no fantastic images of worthy clout against social media’s visual assault. Yet, the audience in the first of Lecavalier’s two performances in Vancouver responded with a heartfelt standing ovation that was clearly not just a notion of courtesy.
It’s hard to articulate what was so moving about So Blue. Created in 2012 under Lecavalier’s contemporary dance company, Fou Glorieux, So Blue is Lecavalier’s first solo choreographic effort in her almost four decades as a dancer and it justly demonstrated the vocabulary her body has mastered over the years. Employing all of her limbs, and at moments even swinging the tress of blond bangs of her cropped hairstyle, she articulated the many textures of Mercan Dede’s rhythmic club beats. A motion of quick scuttling feet, which was repeated throughout the piece at varying intensities and speeds, formed the backbone of the choreography. At times it created a sense of unrest; other times it propelled her swiftly across the stage or became the choreography’s pulse when she chose to remain stationary. Lecavalier carried the first half of the piece alone and partnered with dancer Frédéric Tavernini in the second half. He was twice her size but well-matched in dynamism as they tumbled nimbly with each other. Most of the time, the audience was left to observe her voyeuristically, except when she pragmatically acknowledged our shared physical surroundings each time she cooled herself at the fan on stage right.
So Blue is not anchored by a narrative or a theme, nor does it comment on any social condition. “This piece speaks of everything,” Lecavalier said in a phone interview. Her delicate French accent and soft voice contrasted unexpectedly to her sharp onstage presence. “Why choose only one subject?” she continued, “I wanted a piece that was talking, showing, saying all that we are made of as humans….We experience such beautiful and difficult things….How light we are to still walk and run despite the intensity of the human existence,” and gushed emotionally, “All that touches and changes me, that makes me want to fight, scream and love people more. I wanted to put that on stage. I wanted to let the dance happen.” Of her choreographic choices, she explained, “There is a trance element to it; trance and repetition expresses something in the body. It wasn’t an intellectual approach. The language of dance, in itself, is the art form.” She confessed, “I’m also inspired by colours. Oranges was the first piece I choreographed with Édouard.”
Lecavalier was speaking, of course, of Édouard Lock. “He was the most influential person to my artistry,” she explained, “I don’t know if I would’ve continued dancing if I hadn’t met him. We connected on a human level, an intellectual level and a dance level.” Lock was the founder and artistic director of the dance troupe La La La Human Steps and when Lecavalier joined in 1981, they formed an 18-year artistic partnership that defined each other and their time. “The years at La La La were very busy times,” Lecavalier recalled, but dismissed the notion that they were trendsetters. “We were all simply people of the ’80s representing who we were at that time….It was never an intention to deliberately address any themes. I never had a desire to talk about something that I am not.”
Whomever Lecavalier was, she resonated with her audiences and, reluctant as she may have been, with pop culture. It was a time of punk and gender rebellion, when power suits celebrated the broadness in women’s shoulders, and eye liner and spiky heels embellished daring men. Lecavalier was athletic and androgynous, matched with delicate cheekbones and a thick tangle of permed blond locks. Artistic circles praised her and awarded her with a Bessie Award in 1985; she was the first Canadian to achieve this. She also caught the attention of David Bowie, who commissioned a duet dance with her for his performance at a benefit concert in 1989 for London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts.
In spite of her accolades, one of her lasting trademarks is still her ‘barrel jump’ — an athletic jump where she rotates horizontally in the air and that consistently impressed audiences. Lecavalier shared her view, “Barrel jumps for themselves are not interesting to me. For me, it’s what is linked to it that makes it interesting — the fall, the catch. It’s a game I play with: How far am I going away from you? How quickly do I move towards you? It’s the risk of it and how it’s linked to the floor and the next movement. Jumps were a nice way to have choreographic flow, not necessarily to produce a perfect picture at the height of the jump.”
Momentary visual stimuli like her ‘barrel jump’ are easy to laud. But, So Blue, in its absence of pomp, presented something more intimate and refined. Lecavalier prodded at a deeper, more personal conversation that resonates subtly and remains long after the hashtags fade. If I were to describe So Blue in less than 140 characters, I would simply say, “Lecavalier is an artist”.