CAP UCLA, Royce Hall, Los Angeles, California, January 16, 2015
Louise Lecavalier, erstwhile muse and star dancer of Édouard Lock’s Montréal-based troupe, La La La Human Steps from 1981 to 1999, rocks a hoodie and workout pants like nobody else. And while her expressive face and fastidious technique were the ideal vessel for Locke’s quicksilver choreographic vocabulary—her signature air pirouettes gasp-worthy—Lecavalier, now an astonishing 56 and mother to 12-year old twin girls and still a hoofing tsunami, has also thrown her chapeau into the choreography ring. (The Montreal native founded her own troupe,Fou Glorieux, in 2006.)
The result, “So Blue,” bowed in 2012 and might best be called, “So Extreme.” Indeed, with the U.S. premiere of the work, Lecavalier, in a stunning, 60-minute display of stamina, power and grace, is a whirling dervish of febrile intensity, a Rockette on speed, a terpsichorean Secretariat. In essence, Lecavalier, ever focused and fierce, defies the notion of not only what the “aging” dancer is, but also what the human body is capable of.
Lecavalier, in other words, is a veritable font of jaw-dropping inspiration.
Though her platinum dreadlocks may be gone (but live on in YouTube videos from the ’80s and ’90s when she also performed with the likes of David Bowie, who requested she dance with him on his Sound+Vision tour, and Frank Zappa, who invited her to perform in the “G-Spot Tornado” in one of his final concerts before his death), Lecavalier’s asymmetrical bob’s front tresses can still be tossed and whipped about, thank you very much.
Beginning the work seated at the rear of the stage, with the house lights still up, Lecavalier resembles a prizefighter before a match. When the percussive/electronica music of Turkish Canadian Mercan Dede kicks in with a jazzy trumpet, the game is on: Her arms are swinging, jabbing; her hips seem to have a mind of their own; Lecavalier is in full-throttle, fleet-of-foot, ritual-trance dance mode, albeit the polar opposite of contemplative/meditative.
Au contraire: This is explosive, ecstasy-inducing movement. There is also a militaristic quality at times, with snare drums and droning sounds accompanying the gyrations that also include a mind-blowing series of rapid one-legged hops, her raised leg nearly marking six o’clock.
And then there is silence, save for the sounds of Lecavalier’s yoga-like breathing and the whirrings of a fan at the side of the stage whereby the dancer momentarily cools herself. This quiet is dispelled when the music (additional tracks by Normand-Pierre Bilodeau, Daft Punk and Meiko Kaji), signals a return to quasi-psychotic gestures with Lecavalier crawling, trying to push agonizingly forward but propelling herself backwards instead.
The truth is: Louise Lecavalier cannot be contained; she shakes; she quakes; and at one point she could be Jane Fonda—on steroids—leading her acolytes in those famous workout tapes.
Alain Lortie’s lighting design is simple, stark, blue, white, hot, cool, burning against a black abyss, with large rectangular slashes of light on the floor, all accentuating the tiny giant onstage. Then there is the most extraordinary—and extended—headstand, as an Arabic-sounding flute courses through the hall: Lecavalier’s ankles crossed, her top falling to reveal ribcage and diaphragm, this exercise in dramatic heaving is yet another source of wonderment. The neophyte choreographer, who must come from the “Where-Is-Her-Stomach” school of dance, sucker-punches with this act of exhibitionistic tyranny, a kind of slow-mo upside-down affair that is nothing less than a cosmic heartbeat.
And then it passes; the dancer is on her feet, rooted now, before she begins sidling across the floor—again on one leg—arms akimbo, in a swirl of mad motion. As her mouth moves, she seems to be saluting, beckoning, conducting … a panorama of emotions, thoughts and deeds. She thrusts her head back, her swan neck a source of beauty. An untamed animal, Lecavalier takes a drink of water, strips off her top, exchanges it for another and finally dons that hoodie.
Enter, then, France-born, Montréal-based dancer / choreographer Frédéric Tavernini. Tall, bearded and dressed in dark top and pants (costume design by Yso), he is a host of corporeal seismic shifts in a short solo before he hooks up—literally and figuratively—with Lecavalier.
Together they bounce, robotically, neo-locking and popping, as Lecavalier, a modern-day Petrouchka, seems buffeted by unseen forces. Tavernini spins her, takes her by the scruff of her neck and drops her, his charge—decidedly no Coppélia—after which she falls backwards into his arms, eventually coming to rest atop him. Sprawled over Tavernini, she hangs from his neck, a tug-of-war without the rope, without the war, bumper cars with bodies. Again she’s all arms and legs (think Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), before riding him piggyback style, the music crescendoing, the dance accelerating, the duo diving in and out of each other’s space.
A carefully calculated, out-of-control duet, theirs is a dance of demons. As is the hour-long marathon of tics, twitches and tremors that dot, “So Blue.” Cathartic and, at times, transcendent, this work is punk made mature, with Louise Lacavalier, because this is the way she rolls, still a heavenly messenger of shock and awe.