kicking off dance: made in canada’s five-day program, raymond st-jean’s feature-length documentary Louise Lecavalier – In Motion set the tone for the festival with its expert portrayal of one of canada’s greatest dancers——including several extended dance sequences intercut with interviews covering every facet of lecavalier’s personal and professional life. but it was lecavalier herself who gifted the festival its spirit. rightfully introduced as a living legend, 60-year-old lecavalier epitomized the combination of inexorable humility, virtuosic talent, and superhuman drive whose celebration is the raison d’être of canadian dance.
both on camera and in person during her post-screening Q&A with kathleen smith, lecavalier contrasted the physical intensity of her signature dance style with astounding generosity and grace. among the highlights were her light-hearted admission that she never counts while rehearsing (or that, when she does count, her counting is pure nonsense), her tendency to choose partners she likes over those recommended for their fame or skill, and her philosophy of choreographing with and through the moving body. cementing her commitment to an intuitive, embodied wisdom in its brilliant denouement, the film closes with lecavalier and her dance partner——backstage and exhausted immediately after a full-length performance——getting up from their dressing room’s couch to continue perfecting their steps, on their feet and in motion. “a lot of dance these days is in the mind,” lecavalier notes, “i want to keep dance in the body.”
in addition to peering deep into lecavalier’s life and mind, In Motion is also the definitive filmic presentation of lecavalier’s most recent works. in the decades since she made her name performing aggressive, superfast duets with édouard lock’s la la la human steps, lecavalier has traded outrageous ’80s punk costumes for a closetful of hooded adidas tracksuits (one of which she sported to the screening), and while her style has become more nuanced and original, it is by no means muted. shot in an industrial warehouse, So Blue’s solos centre on physical strength and athleticism, featuring extended headstands, contorted splits, spastic floor-based motion, and frantic bouts of running in place. Battleground’s extreme dutch angles (and even some completely upside-down shots) emphasize entrancingly stilted, gravity-defying poses against metallic floor and walls. in at least one sequence, lecavalier’s preferred high-bpm electronic music cuts out to spotlight the heavy, animal sound of her breath.
while its portrayal of lecavalier’s work and world is comprehensive, st-jean’s treatment does leave aside discussions of its subject’s critical impact and legacy. for example, the film hardly probes the uniqueness of lecavalier’s continuing to dance through her late 50s, or her career’s explicit masculinisation of female dance (early in the film, lecavalier recounts, “i figured that as a guy, i could dance, but being a girl, my chances were slim”). nonetheless, In Motion——in conjunction with lecavalier’s breathtaking appearance at the screening and subsequent reception——presented an ideal picture of artistry and athleticism. certainly, it was a star-studded start to the festival.
John Nyman is a poet, critic and scholar from Toronto. In addition to reviewing for Opera Canada and The Dance Current as part of the 2018/19 Emerging Arts Critics program, he has reviewed literature for publications including Broken Pencil and The Puritan as well as visual art for Border Crossings and Peripheral Review.