Arts & Entertainment
4 min

When Louise Lecavalier moves, we swoon

It is 1988. My sister, who has done very well by the decade with her slender, sulking, androgynous looks, leads our family into one of Montreal’s hottest new restaurants. She knows about this hot new restaurant because she also works in a very hot restaurant — the Sushi Bar, where she serves patrons like Luba and Men Without Hats.
I’m grumpy as usual, because my sister is cool and I’m not cool and everyone is in love with her and no one is in love with me. As we are escorted to our seats I notice, at a small table with a companion, Louise Lecavalier from La La La Human Steps. I mean it, and not just as some sort of trite metaphor — she is luminous. She glows like a silent film star, like a jiang shi in the kung fu movies, like a White Lady. The energy required for everyone to pretend that there is not a shimmering creature sitting in the middle of the room, combined with her own serenely volatile presence, is dizzying. I can’t remember what I ate I was so excited. This is very unusual for me.
Lecavalier was in her mid teens when she first saw dance that excited her, and by her account, it had a similar effect. She never dreamed, she says, that she would carry exquisitely detailed maps of this fascination in her own body and show them around the world to spectacular acclaim. Yet now it is impossible to imagine the ’80s without seeing her hair twisting like shredded sheets all around her, her delicate porcelain face clear yet charged, and that body — combat ready, Tank Girl come to life. For ardent dance fans, her legacy continued into the ‘90s and then beyond with her own group, Fou Glorieux.
LeCavalier is 52 now and hasn’t stopped moving since she was 18. She is someone who quite literally moves through the world. No qualifier required, no “moves through the world as—”. She just moves. Movement is her “as.”
“Kids move all the time,” she says in a telephone interview from her home in Montreal. “As adults we don’t move so much. We move with our brains but not so much with our bodies. I am moving to understand my life, to understand people, to understand everything.”
After so many years of knowing the world through such a fervent and hectic language, how is her body doing?
“Strangely, I think it’s in very good shape,” she says. “A few small things here and there, but I see an osteopath… little things get fixed on their own. Even if something is a little wrong, if I waited to be perfect to dance I would never have danced. There are many things I know now. Though it is more fragile, I know my body much better now than when I was 20.”
Having twin girls around a decade ago presented Lecavalier with a whole new admiration for her physical ability.
“Everything else I’ve done with dancing, maybe it was impressive for others,” she says, laughing gently, “but it wasn’t impressive for me. Maybe having children isn’t impressive for most people, but it was impressive for me. I thought, ‘My body can make another body! That is incredible!’”
While this sort of self-reverence for motherhood often comes across as cloying, from Lecavalier, it is comically ingenuous. Here she is possessed of therianthropic skills as a dancer and yet the act of childbirth, performed by thousands of women around the world every day, renders her, as she jokes, “mute for two years.”
On April 13 Lecavalier brings her most recent offering, Children/A Few Minutes of Lock, to Toronto. She dances both these pieces with two separate partners. “I liked them both and I couldn’t decide,” she says, “so I took them both.” So much the better for the viewers; one of the deepest pleasures in watching Lecavalier is seeing her interact with a variety of partners.
The first piece, choreographed by Nigel Charnock, is a 50-minute duet Lecavalier performs with Patrick Lamothe. She describes it as “very challenging to dance.”
“The movement is simple, with no artifice. Nothing is hidden behind a great choreographic style. The movement talks and says what it wants to say. It is a tour de force of dancing. We are running, on all fours, fighting. It takes lots of energy-shifting.”
The piece delineates a couple’s struggle to stay together, and through this struggle they are reduced to movement that is steeped in the basic emotions that surround fear: rage, vindictiveness, cruelty — exhausting themselves in their effort to reconcile, in their fear of separating, in the awful come-here-go-away limbo of a breakup.
A Few Minutes of Lock features three duets from her celebrated collaborations with Edward Lock. The title is good-humoured; a sly suggestion that Lecavalier knows what the audience wants to see so fine then, a few minutes, juste pour nous plaire. She went to quite a bit of trouble to locate these pieces in her body — for so many years the movements were not just missing but entirely forgotten. The duets are from Salt and 2, later works by Lock and ones that Lecavalier, when she watched them on video, says she couldn’t even recall performing.
“I had completely forgotten how the style had changed in the last years,” she says. “I thought I must do these pieces again because I looked at them and they were new. I watched myself dance and I didn’t remember.”
Lecavalier explains that they were mounted at a time when she was disengaging from the company. Having previously been so ferociously committed to the work, Lecavalier found her only way out of this all-consuming relationship was to not commit herself too deeply to these last pieces.
It is nice to imagine Lecavalier unfurling these old maps with such wonder and coming across long forgotten memories in the movements, while simultaneously creating new routes to old passions.
“I love this back and forth work that makes you go forward,” she says.