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Review

Mille batailles

Festival TransAmériques 2016 By Mark Mann, Philip Szporer
  • Louise Lecavalier and Robert Abubo in Mille batailles by Lecavalier / Photo courtesy by Andre Cornellier
  • Louise Lecavalier and Robert Abubo in Mille batailles by Lecavalier / Photo courtesy by Andre Cornellier

Milles batailles

Montréal  May 31-June 2

By Mark Mann

“Dance is physical combat most of the time,” wrote Louise Lecavalier in the notes for Mille batailles, a ferocious new work by the legendary Montréal choreographer and dancer at Festival TransAmériques. Although her performance style often reveals a subtle comic undertone, Lecavalier definitely proves her point: this piece is an astonishing, non-stop display of physical struggle. Sometimes she fights with her co-interpreter, Robert Abubo, but mostly the war is with the restlessness and unruly impulses of her own body.  

Lecavalier’s gift is to marry wildness with precision. She opens the piece on the tips of her toes, one foot in front of the other, bouncing lightly to an intricately syncopated techno beat. While her core retains this tense posture and nervous rhythm, her arms begin gesticulating energetically in every direction. With many mincing steps, she flows erect across the stage, always facing the audience, as her hands flitter continuously through an endless series of expressive gestures tuned to the beat. The movement concludes with a short water break taken onstage.

Even when she’s gulping a few mouthfuls from her water bottle, Lecavalier is fascinating to watch. She is dressed in black with a hood pulled tight over her forehead and ears, and her face gleams bright in the lights, revealing a theatrical, sometimes clownish presence. Her movements are often extremely articulated, like an insect’s, and elements of mime will sometimes burst through, such as when she bites her nails or puts her fists up to Abubo. In contrast to her effusive energy, the staging is minimalist. There’s a large polished sheet of plywood at the back, and the lighting design employs rectilinear patterns and shapes, which change with each distinct choreographic sequence.

I want to say that I unabashedly loved this show. I certainly did love Lecavalier’s performance so much that it makes me want to shout profanities and bang my fist on the table. (I wasn’t alone: the audience called her back out four times at the close and screamed when she took her bow.) It’s no surprise that Lecavalier is ****ing incredible, but it’s nonetheless true.

Mille batailles is a duet, however, and while Abubo is a strong, distinctive dancer in his own right, Lecavalier is gorgeous and strange and heartbreaking and dangerous. She’s one of those performers who, once you see her, you always know in some quiet part of your mind that she’s out there, somewhere. So it felt imbalanced, which isn’t really fair, but it’s true. In the narrative of the show, Lecavalier is the knight and Abubo is her squire, and from that point of view the dynamic makes sense. Although it’s fascinating to see what she can do with another human body to climb on and swing from, the relationship between them only shifts and weaves but never takes any strong turns, just as the music hardly changes. The fight goes on; the war is never won. What’s left is the thrill of battle, exhilarating and raw. It recedes, but I don’t think it ever ends.

 

By Philip Szporer

It’s an exciting time in the theatre when Louise Lecavalier takes to the stage. Something about her intense concentration and utter dedication makes her hyper-physical presence utterly entrancing. The former La La La Human Steps phenom has had triumphs worldwide, and when she embarked on her own path after close to twenty years with Édouard Lock’s troupe, her limitless stage persona flourished in new ways. What stayed constant was a humble and fiercely devoted performer.

What she displays in Milles batailles (Battlefield) is a precision and mastery of energetic shifts and the total coordination and modulation of those relentless incremental movements. This is Lecavalier’s second major choreography, after So Blue in 2012, and is a duet with dancer Robert Abubo. 

Lecavalier parses the space with mathematical precision in a series of jittery and frantic actions and gestures, whether in a boundless rapid cross-footwork sequence, her hands fluttering in delicate, rhythmic flight, or a simple jog, moving forward. She traverses the vertical, the diagonal, drawing and redrawing the space with her body. In all this graphic charting, she at times doesn’t appear human at all; rather, she becomes a whimsical computerized animated figure ferreting through a chaotic universe (or is it an ordered dystopia?). Antoine Berthiaume’s live music, guitar and synthetic composition, supports the overall mesmerizing and driving tone of the piece.  

In the program notes, Lecavalier indicates she drew inspiration for this piece from Italo Calvino’s fantasy novella The Nonexistent Knight. She’s replicated the author’s parody with a considered robotic control of the movement. Yso, the costume designer, also riffs on the imaginary perfect knight in empty armour, creating a kind of leather sheath for her pants, with mesh top and a capped hood, drawn tightly over Lecavalier’s cropped blond hair. Her excellent partner, Abubo, is dressed in a more nondescript jogging-type black hoodie and dark brown pants. He, too, fully inhabits his compact movements, and they’re in sync as partners when they intersect the stage, or in a series of soft combat engagements, as when she leaps into his arms with her upper body continually thrusting out. 

Trying to extract a unifying theme based on this Calvino thread of information is almost pointless. What Lecavalier does offer, enmeshed in fervour, performing at a dehumanizing, mechanical pitch, is a take on the modern human condition, the dilemma of the human being today. But a dance reveals what it reveals and no more. 

At first, it’s easy just to admire Lecavalier’s stamina. She barely takes a break, only briefly sitting for an instant to take a sip of water. The viewing becomes hypnotic. It’s almost like she sends us over the abyss, into a dream state. It’s no longer a question of analyzing and reflecting; viewer and performer become one. 

The approving roar of the audience at the end of the piece was deafening, and not unexpected. Lecavalier is a true star, one of those rare performers able to capture the public’s heart and soul. 

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