By Mike Keenan
Trying to epitomize Canada’s iconic Leonard Cohen in an eclectic combination of choreography, sound, light and appropriate props, costumes and stage design might seem like a Herculean task, but Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal carried it off wonderfully in their stunningly unique “Dance Me” at Partridge Hall, which played for two remarkable shows.
At the conclusion of the matinee performance, a full house jumped to its feet with fervent, unceasing applause as the talented dancers claimed well-deserved bow after bow after bow, unable to leave the stage, neither performers nor audience seemingly willing to allow the magic to dissolve.
The choreography was mesmerizing, produced by a gifted international triumvirate – Andonis Foniadakis (Greece), Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (Columbia, Belgium) and Ihsan Rustem (London).
Ballet dancers and cross-country skiers are the fittest athletes in the world, and the 14 dancers from Ballets Jazz de Montréal executed demanding routines, revealing unsurpassed agility, power, strength and grace.
Attention to detail was awesome, the lighting design and production by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard and Simon Beetschen augmenting and enhancing each dancer’s movements including something as simple as hands lit for us to watch fingers rhythmically extend and pull back, a brilliant metaphor of a beating heart.
The beating heart, after all, is what Cohen is all about, his poetic lyrics most often touching on loss, melancholy and spirit with rich doses of sensuality mixed in, no doubt in tribute to one of his early mentors at McGill University, poet Irving Layton.
Cohen and a few other singer-songwriters defined the 60s-70s, and his low, reverberating voice and poetic lyrics often merged sacred with profane with ample references to Christ, the cross and human suffering. Early songs like “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire” made him popular on campuses and his later material such as “Everybody Knows” and “I’m Your Man” maintained his popularity culminating with k.d. lang performing “Hallelujah” live at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Ironically, in his 70s, after Zen Buddhist explorations and retreats, Cohen was forced to remount his career thanks to a thieving manager.
Asked to describe his approach, Ballets Jazz de Montréal’s Artistic Director Louis Robitaille says, “It’s … to give space to audience memory. A lot of us have memories of his songs. That’s why we leave it musical and abstract — to leave room for the audience to create new memories.”
He suggests, “Every theatre is a temple, every show or encounter is a celebration, and every performance is important, no matter where we are. We have the privilege of being able to present our art to audiences, and we take that privilege very seriously. We are aware that audiences have paid for their seats and are giving us their time. We believe they deserve nothing but our very best.”
And that’s exactly what we received on one glorious, sunny afternoon in St. Catharines!
Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame died November 7, 2016. Thanks to the artistry of Ballets Jazz de Montréal, he will be long remembered as a unique Canadian voice.
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