Saturday, November 15, 2014

From the Archives: (Dance / Montreal) Review - Dance Me to the End On / Off Love

When Even "Hallelujah" Feels Revitalized
by Caitlin Murphy

[Ed: We ran this review during the initial run of the piece; it is back for a short run - November 19-22 - at Centaur Theatre in Montreal.]

On the heels of its triumph, Trad, the Centaur Theatre is offering another enigmatic and enchanting ‘import,’ this one from further afield.  Dance Me to the End On / Off Love, a Granhøj Dans Production from Denmark, presents a surreal landscape of theatre, movement, and performance art, through the lens of some very familiar melodies and beloved lyrics – those of  Montreal’s own, Leonard Cohen.

A bold programming choice for the Centaur, Dance Me is clearly interested in challenging and teasing its audience, playing with our desires to see clearly, understand what we’re looking at, and be able to read well.  At various times, we are sung to through a megaphone or nylon stocking, shown Cohen’s lyrics re-written on overhead projector, temporarily stunned with a blinding light, or made to decipher what’s being written in body paint on a dancer’s back.   

The musicality of the show is simply outstanding.

In program notes, director and choreographer, Palle Granhøj, explains his use of what he calls the obstruction technique, a rather Beckettian notion.  Essentially, he is much more curious about what happens when movement is interfered with rather than permitted.  Because Cohen’s songs so often take the form of prayers, a spiritual manifestation of obstruction, the two men are a good match.  Repeatedly we are encouraged to see Cohen’s songs differently by not seeing them at all; we are plunged into darkness for minutes at a time, our focus forced solely onto the auditory experience.  Even “Hallelujah,” arguably the most over-done of Cohen’s repertoire (even he’s requested a moratorium) felt re-vitalized through this technique.

The musicality of the show is simply outstanding.  Cohen’s songs (your awe at his  repertoire will be renewed!) are given full and sumptuous sound via a troupe of bassists, guitarists, ‘fiddlers fiddling something so sublime’ and singers ‘born with the gift of a golden voice.’  The evening hits its clear stride with a moody and gorgeously lit performance of “Boogie Street,” that is followed up with a playful take on “I’m Your Man” and capped with “Light as the Breeze,” the evening’s highlight for me; it featured a jaw-dropping vocal performance, and visual imagery – a performer trapped in a wooden box, lit only by a candle – that was absolutely mesmerizing.  

The piece is definitely uneven though – like its title, sometimes on and off. Some of the more ‘straight’ renditions of Cohen’s ballads, sans intriguing visual imagery or movement, veered towards café performance. And though it’s interested in inscrutability, sometimes the piece’s intensely personal nature made it rather too inaccessible. As a retrospective of several of Granhøj’s other dance pieces brought together, Dance Me also sometimes reveals a disjointedness that doesn’t work.

That said, this crossbreed show is so gloriously unusual, so intimately connected to Montreal and such an undeniable musical feast, especially for Cohen fans. And there is indeed a crack in everything. Look to the light.

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