Poet, artist, songwriter, a singer whose gravelly voice carved a niche of mixed pleasure and yearning in countless hearts throughout so many decades, Leonard Cohen's insights into life and love, the mixture of passion and dispassion in his work, were unparalleled, certainly in the English-speaking world.
Cohen is, in short, Montréal's – indeed Canada's – proudest export, so it's perhaps not surprising that the company Ballets Jazz Montréal decided to honour him by adding movement to some of his best-known songs.
Founded in 1972, the 14-strong Ballets Jazz Montréal is a contemporary dance company, currently under the direction of Alexandra Damiani, formerly of the late lamented New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
The company relies on a variety of international choreographers to create new work that builds on its muscular, acrobatic style of dance. For Dance Me, it commissioned three dancemakers: London-born Ihsan Rustem, Greece’s Andonis Foniadakis, both of whom created the bulk of the piece, and Colombian Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who contributes one duet.
Leonard Cohen himself gave his blessing to the project, but didn’t live to see its 2017 world premiere in Montréal. One wonders what he would have made of it.
The staging by concept creator Louis Robitaille and dramaturg and director Eric Jean is attractive, thanks to a large extent to inventive and atmospheric lighting design by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard and Simon Beetschen, the recurring penumbra of the stage constantly challenged and modified by shafts, pools or sheets of light.
There is the music, of course, some of Cohen’s most affecting songs – Boogie Street, Everybody Knows, First We Take Manhattan, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Dance Me to the End of Love... – in original recordings or covers by other artists.
Particularly affecting in Dance Me are its two simpler sequences: So Long Marianne, sung live on stage by company dancer Astrid Angeard, interspersed with Cohen’s voice reading his deeply moving letter to the dying Marianne; and the company’s rendition of Hallelujah, beautifully sung by Hannah Kate Galbraith and Astrid Angeard standing downstage and bringing the show to an end.
Which leaves us with the choreography. Neither Rustem nor Foniadakis sought to match movement to the beat or intention of the songs; their hyper styles undistinguishable, they eschewed any thought of nuance and opted instead for creating vortexes of acrobatic movement, the lifts for the women often requiring splayed legs, crotch foremost, something we hoped had gone out of style long ago.
Lopez Ochoa’s duet didn’t stand out or match her better work.
The dancers are excellent, their energy and mastery of the movement unimpeachable, though we have no way of assessing their expressiveness or versatility in this frantic one-tone programme.
There was, of course, the music and for that we must be grateful.
|What||Ballets Jazz Montréal, Dance Me review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
07 Feb 23 – 11 Feb 23, 19:30 Thu & Sat mats at 14:30 Dur.: 80 mins
|Website||Click here to book|