BJM Plumbs Leonard Cohen's Songbook for an Ambitious New Show
BJM's Benjamin Mitchell and Kennedy Kraeling. Photo by Marc Montplaisir, Courtesy BJM.
In a surprising move last February, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal announced it had struck a deal giving it worldwide exclusive dance and circus rights to legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen's repertoire for five years. The particularity of the terms and Cohen's godlike status in his hometown of Montreal indicated this was not business as usual for the company. BJM's ambitious Cohen-inspired show, Dance Me, debuts December 5–9 in Montreal, and then begins extensive touring nationally and internationally.
The show contains a selection of beloved songs from Cohen's vast songbook, and evokes five seasons in "the cycles of human existence" (from young adulthood to death), according to a company press release. Three of BJM artistic director Louis Robitaille's favorite choreographers, Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Ihsan Rustem, along with stage director Eric Jean, have crafted the dances. Each of Dance Me's "seasons" will have its own creative identity fashioned by a designated choreographer. Robitaille promises the show will incorporate multimedia and feature live singers onstage.
Negotiations to obtain the rights to use Cohen's work began three years ago, says Robitaille. The project was conceived to celebrate Montreal's 375th anniversary, mark Canada's 150th festivities and highlight Robitaille's 20 years at the helm of BJM during its 45th anniversary. According to Robitaille, Cohen was not initially sold on having his work set to dance or circus. But Cohen's lawyer, Robert Kory, saw BJM perform and his endorsement led the singer-songwriter to give the commission the green light.
Though this project was put in motion prior to Cohen's death last year, at age 82, his demise brought a poignant urgency to Dance Me. "Cohen's spirit is there the entire evening," explains the 35-year-old Rustem, who has created about a half-hour of material based on eight songs. Like many, he's loved Cohen's music, but this project has forced him "to find my voice" in Cohen's powerful insights into the human experience.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Rachel Foster and Jonathan Porretta took their final curtain call on June 9, 2019. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
A previous lab cycle. Photo by Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade, Courtesy RRR Creative
Choreographic incubator Broadway Dance Lab has recently been rechristened Dance Lab New York. "I found the nomenclature of 'Broadway' was actually a type of glass ceiling to the organization," says choreographer Josh Prince, who founded the nonprofit in 2012.