DANCE ME at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre
“Just immerse your ears in spellbinding words and music, and feast your eyes on the kaleidoscope of images that unfold before you”
Dance Me, a choreographic tribute to the words and music of the late, great Leonard Cohen, might seem an incongruous project for the Ballets Jazz Montreal. There’s the obvious Montreal connection, of course. Both were born there. But it’s a daring move on the part of director and dramaturg Eric Jean to choose to create an evening of dance around the work of an artist like Cohen, whose words and music demand your full attention. But then, both Ballets Jazz Montreal and Leonard Cohen like to defy expectation, I suspect.
Cohen died in 2016, well known and loved. As he himself wryly recognized, he could look forward to “a huge posthumous career”. Dance Me certainly falls into that category. It’s not just a sense of shared roots that brings Ballet Jazz Montreal and Leonard Cohen together though. Cohen’s work reveals the influences from many cultures, both literary, philosophical and spiritual, just as the Ballet Jazz Montreal reveals its multicultural influences in the fluid, yet muscular; surreal yet gymnastic, movements of its work. This unlikely match, then, produces a fusion of blunt physicality that merges seamlessly with Cohen’s powerful emotions. The irony is there as well. Something Cohen himself seems to have recognized, as he gave this project his blessing before he died.
The title of the show, Dance Me, comes from Dance Me To The End Of Love, a perennial favourite of fans. But the show does not launch into an energetic attention getter of Cohen’s greatest hits. Dance Me begins quietly, in darkness, with spoken words from an early poem, Prayer for the Messiah. With a mood established that is completely Leonard Cohen, the dance begins. Choreographers Adonis Foniadakis, Ihsan Rustem and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, weave together a sinuous evening from meditative beginnings. The choreography of Dance Me evokes both Cohen’s distinctive gritty voice and the unabashed mix of spirituality and eroticism that characterizes his work. Dancers Yosmell Calderon Mejias, Alyssa Allen, Gustavo Barros, John Canfield, Diana Cedeno, Astrid Dangeard, Hannah Kate Galbraith, Shanna Irwin, Ausia Jones, Jordan Lang, Austin Lichty, Marcel Mejia, Andrew Mikhaiel and Eden Solomon bring a variety of looks to the line up, whether part of solos, duets, trios or more. The choreography allows them by turn to heighten the depth of feeling so recognizable in Cohen’s art.
All Cohen’s best known poems are there, including Suzanne, Boogie Street, Dance Me To The End Of Love, Everybody Knows, A Thousand Kisses Deep, and the iconic Hallelujah. Dance Me is a celebration of words, music and dance, but it’s also a celebration of light and darkness. The lighting (designed by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard and Simon Beetschen) is an integral part of the show, and under the direction of Eric Jean, moves to its own precise choreography. It illuminates the dancers in constantly changing, dramatic pools of light. Video design from the HUB Studio projects Cohen like figures on stage. The shape of the man as well as his instantly recognizable sound, are all there, echoed as well in the costumes of the dancers (designed by Philippe Dubuc).
Dance Me is a great evening out at Sadler’s Wells. It’s no accident that it’s been scheduled so closely to Valentine’s Day. So by all means take your beloved out for a special date night. But, single or partnered, take Dance Me as an opportunity to forget the weight of expectation. Just immerse your ears in spellbinding words and music, and feast your eyes on the kaleidoscope of images that unfold before you. You’ll come away with an added appreciation for how very different kinds of art can be combined to reinforce the other. And if you’ve had the forethought to upload Cohen’s poems on your Kindle before leaving for Sadler’s Wells, you’ll be able to maintain the mood for the journey home.
Reviewed on 8th February 2023
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Rolando Paolo Guerzoni
Previously reviewed at this venue: