Daniel Léveillé’s selection of dancers in Solitudes Solo displays their muscularity and physical ability in five variations. None of the movements the choreographer has devised are easy and each successive dancer offers his/her take on the permutations of the specific movements. Léveillé structurally sets up stylistic unity by having one dancer perform, exit, change the guard and have another assume his/her starting position. He is a master of orderliness and here he uses compact strategies to showcase human bodies, almost as objects of anatomical study. These are bodies ready to move and, in action, the muscles are taut, the thighs bear weight and backs undulate over the spine. Léveillé embraces the possibilities in each and every man and woman he’s working with, and in the choreography the angles of the body oppose and complement each other. Justin Gionet is first up, performing an exacting schedule of leaps, lunges, pivots and 360-degree rotations, often rising from seated squat positions. Manuel Roque is next and his gymnast’s body (his background is circus and theatre) provides a more limber approach to the tasks at hand. Gaëtan Viau, with his long mane of hair and heftier build, is fierce both in his stance and his landings. Longtime Léveillé performer Emmanuel Proulx performs a longer set. He’s daVinci’s Vitruvian Man come to life, complete with gyrating hips (in one section). Then Lucie Vigneault reveals her own locomotion with fists clenched and arms defiantly crossed. All perform poker faced, and their gaze telegraphs no personal traits. Rather, their physicality and the execution of the gestures identify them, and I buy the conceit.
Notions of beauty and the representation of the ideal go way back in the history of art. Eadweard Muybridge’s celebrated pictures of the late 19th century depicting, frame by frame, the human body in action or the movements of a galloping horse showed locomotion in fine detail. The analytical photographs and moving pictures of the period by Muybridge and contemporaries such as Etienne-Jules Marey heightened standards of observation of human and animal subjects in motion. This kind of movement catalogue is keenly suggested by the studies that Léveillé is creating in Solitudes Solo: the rigorous physical workout of his dancers is on full view. Flesh, sinew and bone are accentuated for visual consumption.
The preoccupation in 19th century art with the body in motion was indelibly linked to the visual representation of self-improvement and a philosophy of wellbeing. In Léveillé’s work these studies of young man or young woman toiling suggest more than self-improvement or a vision of natural superiority: his human figures sweat, grunt and exude physical strength through each individual’s perfected but not ideal body. The five dancers are not nude as in some of his previous work (in fact they start out in the first sketches wearing T-shirts and briefs, in later sequences just briefs). Marc Parent’s exquisite lighting frames the sculpted beauty of Léveillé’s performers in bold relief against the dirty-white square of Marley, itself framed by the larger black floor and the black curtains enveloping the stage.
Will and purpose define Léveillé’s inventory of moves, and the accompaniment of the J.S. Bach violin concertos, devoid of any romantic mannerism, is a fine juxtaposition. But the choreographer also uses moments of pure silence to begin the sequences. The aural shifts between physical activity and stasis serve as punctuation. A false note that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the piece comes with the lovely 2001 ukulele recording of “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakowiwo’ole, in the final canvas.
Léveillé, as in previous work, has exploited performance virtuosity, strength, and flexibility. Here again, importantly, he’s enlarging inscribed codes of viewing posing men (and women), or other projections of homoerotic imagery. There are no metaphysical horizons being observed, just a visceral impression of the demands and rigours of an interpreter’s discipline and pursuit. And there is something old-fashioned, calculated and even formal about this work. Delivered with a cool detachment and stripped down to its essence, Solitudes Solo provides a profound reflection on our quest for images of the body, how they dominate our lives and how they mould and define us.
The previous week, Manuel Roque, who performed in Solitudes Solo, presented his own work, Ne meurs pas tout de suite, on nous regarde, co-presented by Tangente and the Festival Quartiers Danse. In contrast to his subdued performance in Léveillé’s work, here Roque’s got a different pulse: he is on fire, the volume ratcheted to the highest decibel, tinkering with madness, sly subversion and diving deep into the “savage”, to employ a word used by artistic director Dena Davida to describe the goings-on. The piece is self-indulgent and too long, but casting aside the sections that grate, there remains both Roque and his cohort, the wonderful Lucie Vigneault (both were dancers for Marie Chouinard), are on stage together for the duration of the piece.
The performance is populated with balloons, plastic garden chairs, paper crowns, microphones and fragments of Stephen Hawking’s recorded voice talking about “surviving in the galaxy” and “the human race on the brink”. Roque has a lot on his mind. He’s addressing ideas about the transmigration between the human and the animal, as well as conveying hyped-up meditations on communication and discord, but also what awaits us as we stand on the verge. Physically, there’s lots of full-throttle howling, meowing and flip-flopping across the floor. Throughout most of the piece, Roque is more explosive and extravagant in his actions, while Vigneault tends, certainly for the first half of the performance, to be observant, contained and impassive. He becomes childlike, insistent, crazed as she ignores him. “Regardes-moi, Lucie!”, he shrieks, the decibels rising with each utterance.
Roque is a quick, inspired, visceral kind of performer who’s hard to ignore. He’s immersed totally in the task at hand, and willing to go places he’s never been before. I don’t doubt that for a second. But what he lacks in this performance is modulation and a defined sense of measuring the degrees of intensity in his range and power. This element of reflection seems to be lacking, suggesting for me that Roque’s apparent extreme behaviour is perhaps less than risky.
The “breaking-the-fourth-wall” method of engaging the public directly, with performers climbing into the audience, is nothing new. Here, Roque scampers his sweaty self across rows of people, bodysurfing across them, while Vigneault peppers audience members with a simple question – “Allez-vous bien dans ta vie?” The responses are for the most part inaudible, due to Roque’s shouting while he propels his body across the stage, taking up his space like an ape in the zoo. She too eventually makes dog yelps and donkey sounds, and in the crescendo to the piece keeps repeating “I have something important to tell you”, ending in a rallying cry, yelling, “Important!” (in French), getting the crowd to shout it along with her, like at a political rally. But even though the characters struggle to listen to one another, and discomfort is a big part of the agenda, in Ne meurs pas, the truths get blurred.