Louise Lecavalier is a small figure within the huge expanse of the Théâtre Maisonneuve stage at Place des Arts. Off to one side of the stripped-back wings, the artist casually prepares, dressed simply in a black tracksuit. The house lights are up and Lecavalier eyes her audience, attentive, unafraid but reserved, the essence of readiness. What follows from this calm and simple beginning is a tour de force of performance, endurance and dedication. It is not a surprise when the audience rises to its feet fifty-five minutes later, cheering and yelling.
So Blue (which Lecavalier also choreographed, if you can even use that term to describe such a complete expression of someone’s own body) consists of several vignettes — some fact-paced, some not — driven by Turkish composer and DJ Mercan Dede’s electro-jazzy-tribal-techno score. The opening section, with its speed-of-light grapevine footwork, gives way to a second in which Lecavalier works the floor. Here her jittery physicality is kept low to the ground — she’s on all fours crawling, going in and out of splits, side planks and other positions that reference her famously daily yoga training. She finishes this section with a slowly achieved headstand. Which she holds — for a freakishly long time — her breath coming in pants and her shirt fallen away to expose the abdominal muscles of a body builder.
In another section (Lecavalier pauses only briefly in between “sets”) she moves across the stage on one foot, twisting that foot as her other leg, arms and hands casually sign. Not a story I think, it’s more like she is channelling currents of energy through her limbs. There’s no guile (Lecavalier dries her sweaty body by leaning up against an electric fan at the side of the stage and simply turns her back slightly to change clothes) and little mystery though you do have to stick with her performance and have faith (a few didn’t on the night I attended and I felt sad for them).
There are moments early on in So Blue when I feel like I’m watching a particularly charismatic fitness instructor mashing up some of the showier moves from yoga, Pilates and aerobics class, but Lecavalier’s sincerity, her artistry, immediately make me ashamed of that thought. Another thought that occurs is that some of Lecavalier’s dance vocabulary owes a huge debt to Édouard Lock with whom she collaborated for many years. It’s a fleeting idea — Lecavalier has so many other things going on. Her muscle memory has multiple chapters – recognizing which is which becomes unimportant after a while. Sometimes, and inexplicably, dance can push you along a cerebral path that leads to a more holistic embrace of what the artist is offering — this happened to me while I experienced So Blue. I changed a little, lost some cynicism and glimpsed a different way of living in dance.
Though she probably could, Lecavalier doesn’t carry the show alone. Halfway through Frédéric Tavernini appears — he’s a France-born, Montréal-based dancer/choreographer who looks like a thug and dances like a poet. He performs alone for a time then returns later for an extended duet (or series of duets). The tempo of the music has gradually become faster and more intense — it’s basically trance as Tavernini and Lecavalier begin to free-form together, popping, trembling and shaking their bodies, independently but also ducking in and out of each others’ space. Another fragment sees Lecavalier “floating” on Tavernini’s back as he traverses the stage in pushup position. The pair become even closer in the final section of So Blue, exploring a deep and tender partnering. They may be different sizes but Tavernini and Lecavalier have a similar luminescent strength of character and commitment to what they are doing. Watching them, I am reminded of how beautiful collaboration in dance can be.
An intoxicating marriage of performance brilliance, ritual and feverish musical push, So Blue tracks a slow ramping up of tempo, complexity and concentration — by the end of it we are all in a transcendent state together. There are few performers who can take an audience on this kind of journey — Lecavalier has proved over and over again, and does once more with So Blue, that she is one of them.