Louise Lecavalier’s ropy musculature, punk androgyny and ballistic barrel rolls defined Édouard Lock’s choreographic signature for nearly two decades. Now, 12 years after retiring as the platinum-maned icon of his company La La La Human Steps, Lecavalier still astonishes as a dancer of rare and singular presence; a force of nature, simply. Children + A Few Minutes of Lock, a double program at Usine C of duets by Nigel Charnock and Édouard Lock, is an opportunity to witness the legendary talents of Quebec’s rebel queen of contemporary dance.
2009‘s Children is the opening piece, a 50-minute duet by British choreographer Nigel Charnock featuring former O Vertigo dancer Patrick Lamothe alongside Lecavalier. Set to a jukebox soundtrack shuffling tunes by Leonard Cohen, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, Puccini and others, the work vaguely narrates the arc of a couple’s life – innocence and play turn to frustration and fatigue, and through physical labours they try to keep it all together. A few times they play fight with staffs (when is this ever supposed to be suitable for serious choreography?), gulp water and toss the bottles, wrestle with pillows and drape the emptied cases over their heads.
In the end Children is dramatically slight but still engrossing as stage time for Lecavalier. Her attack is sharp and swift, her jumps full and her landings precise, ready for rebound. She handles fast changes in direction as if it were her sport, runs and hurls herself repeatedly into her partner’s arms as if to dislocate his shoulder and mow down the first few rows of spectators. Poor Lamothe is visibly overpowered, outpaced and outlasted by Lecavalier, resulting in some impressively profuse sweating and their physical synergy coming loose by the end.
Kier Knight, Lecavalier’s partner in the Édouard Lock excerpts, fares better. A former dancer with La La La, his tall stature and attentive, endless arms offer better traction for her torpedo force. The final 15 minutes of the program consist of three duets taken from the last Édouard Lock pieces in which Lecavalier danced: 2 (1995) and Exaucé/Salt (1998). In revisiting them we see the choreographies still fit her like a glove.
Thrashing her platinum-blond locks, Lecavalier glows bright under the lights wearing only a tank top, knee-pads and thigh-baring shorts. Knight’s manipulations are obscured by baggy black clothing, but this is fine, as his presence is about utmost industriousness. In these pieces we see Lecavalier illuminated and revelling in her element; she is a total 360-degree natural barrelling through the air on every axis. In a frantic state of launching and falling with ragdoll abandon, she is permanently awake and maintains absolute precision in the way she hits or misses the ground, anticipates her partner’s bracing support. But it is not just the spiky, high-risk manoeuvres that impress; the way she enters and exits them with serene insouciance is equally all her own.
Watching Louise Lecavalier dancing Édouard Lock’s choreography is to glimpse into the artist-muse archetype at rare proximity. The two began to collaborate in the late 70’s during the creative pressure cooker years of Le Groupe Nouvelle Aire, the seminal Montreal company from which emerged many of Quebec “nouvelle danse” luminaries. Lecavalier is the embodiment of Lock’s early iconoclasm – raw, unrelenting, both strikingly idiosyncratic and neutral – and offers trap-door insights into his life’s work. Even in his current, decidedly ballet-obsessed mode, Lock still makes use of a task-like, toneless cool at blistering speeds. Revisiting Lecavalier’s barrage of horizontal barrel jumps, at once thrilling and numbing, sheds sudden light on the pirouetting ballerina drills on pointe that so dominate Lock’s recent productions.
Lock being very resistant to reproducing old work, these excerpts from 2 and Exaucé/Salt are fascinating documents that contain the early and transitional DNA of the Lock aesthetic we recognize today. Montreal audiences will get a chance to see his long-awaited latest creation with La La La Human Steps on May 5 at Place des Arts.
Finally, did I mention that Louise Lecavalier will be turning 53 this year? That she is dancing on an artificial hip? No, because it hardly matters at all. Lecavalier is potent and indefatigable as ever, as her audiences and dance partners can all attest to.
Fou Glorieux is the company Lecavalier founded in 2006 as a vehicle for her collaborations with select choreographers that to date include Benoît Lachambre and Crystal Pite. Children + A Few Minutes of Lock opened April 27 at Usine C and runs through April 30. For tickets and information: www.usine-c.com.