Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Dance) Looking For Elvis and The Man in Black

Looking For Elvis (photo by John Lauener)

Presley 'n' Cash
by Beat Rice

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie presented two different works that both pay homage to two of America’s legends, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The evening’s program was switched - The Man In Black was performed before Looking for Elvis. Although inspired by guitar playing and crooning American men, the two dance pieces are quite different and will be commented on separately.

James Kudelka’s The Man in Black first premiered in 2010. Created for three male dancers, (Luke Garwood, Tyler Gledhill, Daniel McArthur) and one female (Christianne Ullmark), the piece is danced to five songs sung by Johnny Cash. All five dances contained heavy influences of country western style dance. Imagine a modern and more flexible take on line/square dancing with lots of lifts and kicks, and always in 4/4 time.

Kudelka often has the dancers tell the story of the songs by physicalizing the lyrics in a somewhat literal, but always clear way. I tend to think that sign language dancing comes across as a bit corny but for this piece it was honest and it worked with the music. It also made for some very funny moments, although the crowd did not seem to laugh out loud too much.

What I loved most about the five short dances was the complete romanticization of the American country West. Complete with cowboy boots and plaid shirts, everything from the costumes, the choreography (which included what I assume to be bar fights and the galloping sounds of horseback riding), and the music transported us to another place entirely. 

The second work, Looking for Elvis, is a compilation of interview clips with the real Elvis, as well as snippets from a few songs. For this piece three dancers are added to the first four, Erin Poole, Michael Caldwell, and Andrew McCormack. 

Choreographer and Co-Artistic Director Laurence Lemieux was inspired by a trip to Graceland, and a biography on the King; but what specifically about Elvis that Lemieux wanted to share was not clear. We see some moments of the struggle and pressures of fame, and not much else. If we did not have the audio recordings of the man divulging information about himself to an interviewer, we may have been lost.

In contrast to the first part of the evening, Lemieux’s choreography does not follow the music of Elvis precisely, and in some parts simply appear random with all seven dancers doing their own thing in their own time. This mixture sometimes comes together in visual pattern, such as all of them beginning at the same slow pace and over time building into frenzy. Thankfully, it all comes to a simple and beautiful conclusion that ties it all together. The last piece is danced to the entire length of the ballad, Fools Rush In. Echoing some of the aesthetic used in Kudelka’s Man In Black, we see the dancers moving in unison, reflecting the lyrics in a sign language kind of way that is endearing, just like the song.

Three quarters of the way through the piece, a technical mishap occurred, creating an awkwardly silent pause in the action. Once the problem was fixed, the dancers backed up slightly and we all had the pleasure of re-experiencing an Elvis impersonation and lip sync. I commend  all of the artists for their professionalism.

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