Louise Lecavalier is, according to veteran Canadian dance producer Jack Udashkin, “modern dance’s first, and maybe only, superstar performer, the only one with a real international identity.” He may well be right. She first blazed onto the stage in 1988 with Édouard Lock’s company La La La Human Steps, and made an immediate impact both for her startling appearance (thick cables of platinum hair that seemed to electrify the air around her; a powerhouse physique) as well as for her fearless physicality, which saw her hurtling through space, crash-landing onto surfaces both soft (other people) and hard (the floor) or, most famously, spinning horizontally in vertiginous “air pirouettes”. Alongside La La La, with whom she performed until 1999, Lecavalier also appeared in concert tours with David Bowie and Frank Zappa. But whether on the contemporary dance stage or the rock platform, those who saw her didn’t forget her.
They remember her still. Apart from a couple of appearances in 2011 and 2012, Lecavalier has scarcely been seen on the UK stage since the 1990s, but her performance of So Blue at the Queen Elizabeth Hall still drew a buzzy audience of dancegoers, dance critics, people who’d see the Bowie tour, a lot of dance practitioners, and others drawn by her reputation. Still, this work doesn’t hark back to the old days, but rather marks something of a new departure for Lecavalier: having founded her own company Fou glorieux in 2006 as a vehicle for collaborations and commissions, So Blue (2012) is the first piece with herself as sole choreographer.
Even in a moment of calm you sense ongoing undercurrents of energy, the vitality of the moment.
That figures. The piece feels like a phenomenally gifted dancer/performer trying out a new role as choreographer/director – and not yet finding a balance. As a performer, Lecavalier remains riveting. At 55, she’s still a dynamo of a dancer, less extreme than back in the day (no air pirouettes) but as focused and as fierce. The piece is driven largely by the twin turbo of Lecavalier’s performance and the electronic music of DJ Mercan Dede, which spools sinuous melodies over repeatedly sputtering rhythms that are themselves layered over urgent, insistent pulses. Lecavalier embodies that musical drive. She builds a series of scenes, each – like the music – a cycling of restless, rhythmic and sometimes disjointed motifs: hands scrabbling against the air; dodges and feints; legs kicked up then back; skittery, snare-drum steps, ragged rolls, long leans. It’s like seeing electricity galvanise her whole being. Even in one strikingly meditative moment of calm (she upends into a long-held headstand), you sense ongoing undercurrents of energy: the tremor of a heartbeat, the vibration of a pulse, the vitality of the moment.
That’s a powerful flame burning at the heart of the piece, but its intensity is more diffused than channelled by the choreography. The sequence of scenes builds atmosphere but not direction. Some way into the piece, Lecavalier is joined by Frédéric Tavernini, his towering, bearlike presence a foil to her jittery jackal; and though they work together marvellously, there’s no apparent reason for his entry, exit, or return. The set, too, is evocative: faintly maze-like diagonal strips on the floor, lighting that burns fluorescent white then midnight blue, sidelamps that Lecavalier occasionally peers into, as if looking for a window beyond the world of the stage that she’s set up. But you find yourself peering into the piece, searching for some window onto a bigger or deeper picture than what you see and what you sense, for some insight into its world. So Blue is a captivating piece of dance with the makings of a great piece of choreography, but not yet the workings of one.