On Friday, February 14, 2020 The Broad Stage gave the Los Angeles audience a true gift of the heart; the dazzling Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal: Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me. This tribute to Montreal’s native son, the brilliant poet, songster and writer, Leonard Cohen was an 80-minute tour de force. It managed to cross boundaries and rise to such levels of subtlety, intensity and aesthetics as not seen often in these parts. This Valentine gift clearly made its mark on the Los Angeles audience.
Expectation high, the curtain rose on the darkened stage. The daring boldness and fierce creativity of Choreographers Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Ihsan Rustem proved their brilliance in melding a seamless vision of Cohen’s exceptional works. The audience’s hush for a glorious hour and 20 minutes was a tribute to the excellence that lulled and energized viewers into a standing ovation of nine curtain calls.
All through the vision was the mark of a prolific partnership with the Artistic Direction of Montréal born Louis Robitaille, himself an outstanding dancer of his generation, in tandem with the bold dramaturgical wisdom of esteemed Eric Jean. They translated their artistry into astute leadership with the blessing of Cohen himself during his lifetime. Robitaille’s choice of celebrated dancers led by the muse and soul of Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal’s French born Principal Dancer, Céline Cassone, proved Robitaille’s brilliance. Cassone’s extraordinary talent, facility and soul, in every moment on stage shared her generous spirit with powerful Russian born, Cuban Trained Principal, Yosmell Calderon and the exceptional company members; Brandi Baker, Jeremy Coachman, Shanna Irwin, Terra Kell, Elijah Labay, Marcel Mejia, Andrew Mikhaiel, Benjamin Mitchell, Saskya Pauzé-Bégin, Julia Radick, Madeleine Salhany and Ermanno Sbezzo, whose credits appear as a who’s who of dance. With a combination of Canadian, American, and European dancers they melded their flawless ballet and jazz technique with their own spirited and surprising elán.
The Opening set the scene for Cohen’s sensual and poignant messaging. On the shadowy stage, the company of bold black and grey suited humans, strode, pacing in patterns to Cohen’s graveled throated talk/singing of “Everybody Knows.” The physical energy of the incessant pacing was picked up in the superb Lighting Design and Production by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard, Simon Beetschen, with Claude Plante (Head of Lighting). They painted the opening canvas with pulsing and striated chards of light, catching the forms as if by magic, creating tension in the positive and negative space. Through the mist, an apparition in red, and at first hardly distinguishable behind the insistent walkers. Then moving ever closer and more clearly the ghostly figure finally Becomes. And as she appears, in a flaming mauve-red tunic, and spiked fiery red mane, (Costume Designer:Philippe Dubuc), Céline Cassone becomes the spirit of the everywoman of Cohen’s past.
This tension of color, sound and light is quieted by the recollection of “So Long Marianne” poignantly sung by a youthful specter of his past love and lust for Marianne Ihlen. This, along with a moving Chanson “Dance Me to the End of Love,” performed by soulful Cassone and Calderon drove the narrative of love, passion and unrequited ire in the gorgeous pas de deux, trois, and quatre’s of the dazzling dancers. This further lulled us into following the mysterious blue rain coated stranger, and a hint of the tale of Cohen’s lost/stolen mystery, never solved. He guided us on a journey through a scene of a seated man at a typewriter, typed pages flying through the air behind him; lit boxes with dancers as leg puppets kicking a ball on a projected screen; falling bodies through space and, not to be forgotten, “Touching the perfect body with [his] mind” in “Suzanne.”
The moments of transcendency rose even above the mission to honor the poetic soul of Cohen. The juxtaposition of physical energy, incessant pacing, and brilliant stagecraft never waned. Lighting along with Technical Direction by Louis Morisset was outstanding in melding the sparse scrims and projections, as well as Scenography and Prop Conception (Pierre-Etienne Locas), Scenography Technical Direction (Alexandre Brunet), Musical Direction (Martin Léon), Music Conception (Alexis Dumais) with Head of Sound (Manon Meunier). All were significant in the subtle evolution of Cohen’s statement of life’s beginnings and endings.
Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal is by far one of the highlights of today’s theatre experience and should not be missed, if only to observe what working together for a unified vision is, with true craftswo/men and exceptional artists.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle, February 20, 2020.
For more information on Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, click here.
Featured image: Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal: Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me – All artists – © Photo Thierry du Bois