Cas Public

February 1, 2013

Louise Michel Jackson and Pierre Lecours demonstrated the rigors of a dancer’s life in
Courage mon amour.

Rolline Laporte, courtesy Cas Public

Cas Public

Studio, Agora de la Danse
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

October 9�19, 2002

Reviewed by Linde Howe-Beck

After almost twenty years as a choreographer, Hélène Blackburn has addressed the question everyone in dance must eventually ask: Why dance? Her answers�and those of the dancer-collaborators in her Montreal company, Cas Public�are all too familiar and superficial. Escapism (from old age, predictable lives, pain), occasional euphoria, desire for stardom, and most of all, masochism, are front and center in Courage mon amour (Courage My Love).

Co-produced with L’Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, Courage’s message is one we’ve heard so often it’s become banal. Plenty of shows, including A Chorus Line, have emphasized that dancers’ lives are filled with injuries and boredom. That Cas Public’s six outstanding interpreters verbalized their thoughts on the subject ad infinitum in French, English, Italian, and sign language is a good excuse to return to the days when dancers could be seen and not heard.

But Courage‘s dancing is something else. Blackburn’s style is tough, explosive, unrelenting, and urban-chic. Taking advantage of classical technique, she twists and sharpens it, eliminating any sign of lyricism or softness, lopping off the preparations, chucking out the port de bras, and pressing the fast-forward button. The resulting visceral vigor is mind blasting: Cas Public’s technical dancers pack many contrary moves into each split second.

Blackburn has been honing this approach since she began choreographing in 1983. Courage uses her physical arsenal to emphasize the reasons for dancing and the difficulties that interpreters encounter. As there is little respite from dance in a dancer’s life, there is none in Courage�unless you count the moments when the dancers speak their thoughts. However, the accompanying frenetic signing maintained their boiling-over energy levels.

Every movement in Courage was coiled, tense, and serious, insisting that dance is no laughing matter. Classical ballet positions were parodied�sometimes by dancers on their backs on the floor. Acting like adversaries, partners contorted each other quickly, precisely, flinging arms and legs into impossible positions, sending each other to the floor with kicks behind the knees, and striking fleet, 180-degree extensions as easily as yawning.

The six flashy dancers repeated the combinations, underscoring the tedium of the dancer’s life. Geneviève Boucher, Sonya Stefan, Louise Michel Jackson, Stéphane Deligny, Pierre Lecours, and Yves St-Pierre were brilliant in ensemble work and superb in solos and duos. With beautifully arched feet in tight little black boots, Stefan performed sequences of high-speed leg and foot rotations. Violinists Émilie Caron and Andréa Tyniec played atonal music by musical director Véronique Lacroix, André Ristic, Nicolas Gilbert, and Anna Sokolovic, which suited Courage‘s blistering attack. St-Pierre’s solo reflection of the music was another high point.

Just as she used dancers’ off-the-cuff reasons for dancing as the basis for Courage, Blackburn’s sleek, recycled moves came as no surprise to those acquainted with the rest of her work. Although it’s the first time she has choreographed on such an intimate theme, she used her usual vocabulary to express it. What a pity she didn’t push beyond the choreographic recipes that have brought Cas Public critical and popular success in Europe, Great Britain, and North America.