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Review

Songs for a Nervous System

Jean-Sébastien Lourdais’ Bleu By Philip Szporer
  • Sophie Corriveau in Jean-Sébastien Lourdais's Bleu / Photo by Jean-Francois Boisvenue
  • Sophie Corriveau in Jean-Sébastien Lourdais's Bleu / Photo by Jean-Francois Boisvenue
  • Sophie Corriveau in Jean-Sébastien Lourdais's Bleu / Photo by Jean-Francois Boisvenue

Théâtre LaChapelle, May 27-29, 2018

At first glance, the design for Jean-Sébastien Lourdais’ solo performance Bleu, created in collaboration with Martin Bélanger and Sophie Corriveau, is a stunner. A straw-like substance is gathered in bundles and strewn across the black stage. As I walk across the lip of stage to get to my seat, it crackles underfoot. No, this is more like vermicelli, rice noodles.

Corriveau is wearing layers, a green moss t-shirt under a coral open shirt, navy trousers with slits at the knees and sporting a black hat, pulled over her forehead. She’s calmly moving the mounds, with a red plastic shovel and a black metal plumbing pipe. The lighting by Jean Jauvin, mounted on one side of the stage, fans out with a golden hue that deepens and glows with intensity. A series of twelve foil squares are evenly laid out on the opposite wall, in rows of four. They capture and reflect the light, adding to the shading in the space.

The electronic sound design by Lourdais’ long-time collaborator, Ludovic Gayer, is invasively loud. Not my thing, really, but after a while, the barrage is less unsettling, as my nervous system adapts.

Lourdais’ work is concentrated on somatic states and he speaks in the programme notes about “refin[ing] the body’s state of awareness.” What’s clear in Bleu is the importance of touch. By extension, when he describes intensified “internal sensations while remaining attuned to the exterior reality,” he’s expressing how personal this dance vocabulary, developed with Corriveau, has become. Bodily states and memories are highly individual experiences and the spectator’s reference points within the performance are equally subjective. Incidentally, the “bleu” referred to in the title is not about the colour blue, but rather relates a state of being.

The onstage movements and actions are minimal. Corriveau makes her way gently arranging and rearranging the noodles. She uses the pipe as a rolling pin, and the crackle of the noodle and the tinny sound of the pipe as it hits the floor become more prominent. The lights go down and all the sounds diminish.

Soon, we see Corriveau prone on the floor. Her hand digs into a mound. She walks across her landscape, and then burrows into another heap. She then lifts a pile and places it on her head, the morsels cascading down over her body. Her breath is audible – the rhythmic inhalations and exhalations subtle, but present. She puts her fingers in her mouth. She walks upright, and with her arms straight up in the air. Then, while undoing her ponytail from its elastic, she exits the stage very briefly. Re-entering, in the theatre aisle, continuing a series of disinterested movements, first lying amidst the noodles, and then getting up with purpose. She builds a bigger mound. Eventually, she demolishes the noodles in a coffee grinder, creating a fine dust that’s spread and sifted across the stage. The sweeping action of the dust is evocative of another setting, another time. The combing recalls, for me, acres of landscaped gardens, perfected in a meditative action, recalling a Zen proverb, “When you sweep the garden, you are sweeping your mind.”

A low-level hum fills the space, followed by a vibration and increasing in volume. Again, the sound hits me like an annoyance, especially so as I’ve settled into a different state of mind. I feel the heat in the room. Corriveau is whipping the dust particles into the air. There’s something quiet and celebratory about the action. To me, the patterns of the dust trails also evoke songlines, the Indigenous Australian dreaming track, and connections to nomadic travel. The rhythmic beat of the music pulses through my plexus. I calm down.

Foremost in my mind is an idea that Bleu would be a far more successful piece as an installation, where the public could move freely in the space, or even settle into a position, outside the theatre seat confines and viewing conventions. As the piece stays with me over the past couple of days, I forget about the sound barrage and more clearly recall the landscape, site and stories that have surfaced in my mind.

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