Having spent more than ten years choreographing works for naked dancers, choreographer Daniel Léveillé seemed ready for a change. “I didn’t want nudity to become my perennial trademark,” he mused in response to his new work Solitudes Solo, which opened Saturday May 24 at Théâtre Prospero as part of this year’s Festival TransAmériques (FTA).
He instead sent his dancers out in small lycra underwear; clearly a dramatic departure from his previous work. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!
The piece is essentially a series of movement studies – the choreographic equivalent of simple charcoal sketches with a recurring motif. The dancers enter one by one, fix the audience with intent stares, and carve out a collection of movement arcs and tics. There’s something very modern-with-a-capital-M about the vocabulary, which Léveillé acknowledges in the programme notes: “I notice borrowings, conscious or not, from a movement style popular in the 1970s when I began dancing. There is, for example, a small layer of Limon technique – the falls, the releases, the head movements.”
Léveillé’s choreography with its stop-start dynamic and slow-balancing adage sections is difficult to pull off, even for the best dancers. Coupled with the fact that each dancer is performing alone under stark lighting in a plain black box stage, there is nowhere to hide any glitches or mistakes.
But it does focus the audience’s attention wonderfully and creates a sense of stillness and concentration for both the dancers and spectators. The Bach sonatas used throughout were glorious, but the ukulele rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” near the end of the show was a strange anomaly that didn’t add anything to the piece.
Justin Gionet opens the show with a concentrated mélange of tours en l’air and counter balances, beginning in silence. His technique is solid and his stare unwavering.
He is replaced by Mathieu Campeau, who has a pleasing power and rapidfire quality when the choreography permits, but he lacks the control to pull off some of the slower movements and his linking steps lack conviction. Perhaps this is simply a case of the choreography not sitting well on his body – it certainly isn’t for everyone.
For me, Gaëtan Viau was a particularly interesting performer. With his waist-length hair and pencil moustache, he looked like a Lithuanian speedmetal drummer who had lost his way back to the tour bus. But in Solitudes Solo he defied any preconceived expectations when he launched into a deep – and perfectly turned out – arabesque en demiplie. And held it. And held it. The Bach sonata swished around him and I felt transfixed for a long, slow moment. His movement vocabulary was a mix of balletic arms (à la Swan Lake) and slow adage, with dynamic leaping phrases thrown in for good measure.
Another standout was the Adonis-like Emmanuel Proulx. His sense of bodily control is absolute almost to the end. A series of jetés and compass-like swivels were coupled with a recurring wide-open pose, reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
Just one female dancer is featured in Solitudes Solo: Esther Gaudette. The slight blonde performed topless, perhaps in a nod to Léveillé’s previous work. Her vocabulary took some of what came before her (tours en l’air, jetés, small turns) and incorporated boxing phrases, with fists held high to protect the face whilst in a deep squat.
The dancers all performed with conviction and there was plenty to admire about their individual characteristics and styles. But for some festivalgoers, this show may be too minimalist and stripped back to sustain their attention for the full duration of the performance. Ultimately, in its sparseness, the choreography itself is much more exposing than nudity could ever be.
Solitudes Solo is presented May 24, 25 and 26 at Théâtre Prospero as part of this year’s FTA. Info and tickets here.
Rebecca Galloway is a writer and PR consultant for arts and culture clients. Her work has taken her from New Zealand to Massachusetts to Toronto, but she moved to Montréal for love.