It’s not just dance people who will be interested in the new Cas Public production, “Courage mon amour”, by choreographer Hélène Blackburn. The audience pool is exponentially larger. In this dance with music and words, there is no question of Blackburn's public getting her point. She is stating the often elusive query, ‘Why dance?’ Her dancers are on the same page, through the stories they tell (about the vagabond life, the unceasing pain in their bodies, their passion, etc.), and the extremely assured movement they execute, which in Blackburn’s stylistic arena evolves in permutations.
Her investigation opens casually with a cascade of petals from the fly above. Dancers and musicians come on stage, as the audience enters the hall and assembles in their seats. Some of the performers sweep the paper props into clusters, other stretch in warm-up mode. They pass each other silently and seamlessly. Stéphane Déligny, new to the company, opens the piece, breaking the circle of stage light and entering with his limber body, curbing torso, and swivelling spine. By and large, the dancers are quick operators – turning fast and faster, on pointed feet, bent backwards with supreme physicality, arch in their verbal cues, and semi-tender in the right measures. They are singular sensations, and yet they often perform gloriously in duets, their grounded bodies intersecting and clasping. Blackburn’s partnering is highly unusual – there’s lots of humanity in it.
The repetitive nature of Blackburn’s choreographic invention requires relief though, and that’s where the words and the use of fluent sign language (another manipulation of the body) come in. As the energy of the choreography dissipates, laughter represents a dose of fresh air. “It’s masochism,” says one performer, expressing her motivation to dance in confession/revelation mode. Then pausing for effect, she repeats, “It’s masochism.” The versatile dancers give off a sexual charge, an ironic sass, and a measure of nerdy neediness; and the young, appealing cast is directed with bravura showmanship by Blackburn.
Carole Courtois dresses the dancers in variations of black – tops and pants for the men and skirts for the women – to accentuate their leg line. And what legs. Legs stir the movement, and Blackburn uses extension, but not in an obvious way. When Sonya Stefan is lifted, her legs unfold with lightness and snap, and yet because of her short size can she cut through space. Some of the newer dancers to the group (Geneviève Boucher, Louise Michel Jackson) seem over-careful, while veterans of the company – like Stefan, Pierre Lecours and Yves St-Pierre – are more headlong.
The on-stage musicians, violinists Émilie Caron and Andréa Tyniec, members of the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, under the direction of Véronique Lacroix, create a diverse and vivid soundscape with selections by André Ristic, Nicolas Gilbert and Anna Sokolovic. They provide the pulse and the tonal centre for this dance. With Jean François Gélinas’ gorgeous lighting (pools of sweeping, intersecting circles), Blackburn is able to evoke an open field, supporting her instinct to reveal the transparency and the complexity of the dancing body. At times these bodies speak with quiet tenderness, at other moments with big booming voices.
Lecours’ own choreography, the theatrical, fun and foolish “L’hérésie”, serves as a prelude to the evening, and an advent of things to come. The piece has been substantially re-worked since its premiere last year under the title “L'hérétique”. Blackburn is clearly a mentor for this emerging talent. He wouldn’t have had this opportunity, in this theatre, which presents established choreographers, without her support. But the pairing raises substantial questions. Is Lecours' assured partnering benefiting by association with Blackburn's imprint, or has his cinematic sensibility, even his sense of movement, infected her choreographic vision and been a jumping off point for her? (The program notes for Blackburn's piece indicate the involvement of her dancers in the making of the choreography.) His sensibility is certainly toward the absurd, with plenty of ham, and much more jaded than hers. Intimacy is found with a chair, for instance. Love is on the run. But the tension of his romantic scenarios – and there are many variations spread out over the twenty-minute piece – suggest a searching soul and someone who has found a means through dance to probe his innermost demons, desires and delights. “Courage mon amour” runs through October 16th @ 8pm at Agora de la danse, Montreal.