Dance Review – Laurence Lemieux’s Les cheminements de l’influence

Laurence Lemieux christened the new studio theatre at the Citadel with a very personal solo. The dancer/choreographer chose a very abstract topic – a piece to honour her father, renown Quebec political scientist Vincent Lemieux.

The title comes from a book that Vincent Lemieux wrote – Les cheminements de l’influence, or in English, Pathways of Influence. When I interviewed Lemieux before the work’s premiere, she admitted that one could not actually dance “political science”, but she could pay tribute to her father’s exacting pure science approach to measuring the zeitgeist of the Quebec people, and compare it to her own artistic approach to creating dance.

Now if one had not read the comprehensive program notes, one would have no idea about Vincent Lemieux’s place within the choreography. What is vividly apparent, however, is Lemieux’s love/hate relationship with Quebec.

Gordon Monahan’s wonderfully evocative soundscape references Quebec history with old radio broadcasts. The background to the dance includes the national anthem sung in French, a 1984 hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Quebec Nordiques that turned into a brawl, news reports of the 1962 Quebec election, politician Camil Samson’s rant against credit, the funeral of Premier Maurice Duplessis, the opening of the massive James Bay hydro project, and the 1977 Stanley Cup final overtime period between the Canadiens and Boston Bruins – and all this interpolated with deconstructed Chopin music for prepared piano. (The program does include excellent translations of the spoken French.) Gabriel Cropley’s simple lighting design suits the piece’s political/reflective theme very well.

Lemieux arrives sporting a tuque, gloves, boots and a winter coat. In time, she sheds the coat to reveal a red plaid lumberjack shirt and jeans. The costume places her right in the heart of Quebec. Lemieux begins by walking pathways across the dance floor, but each time with a difference – in military mode, confusion mode, defiant mode, aggressive mode and the like. At one point, she even staggers and stamps about like a drunk in a barroom. She also goes through motions of skating, and even preening. Big arabesques and lunges, goose stepping, the discipline of pure ballet, turns and balances, frantic gathering and reaching – all depicting the various emotions that Quebec evokes within her.

For example, during the Hydro Quebec segment, Lemieux executes distorted physical shapes on the floor, all the while balanced precariously on her arms and legs. I saw in this the rape of the environment, and the dam’s impact on the Inuit and caribou. There is also a section where she manhandles a stack of much-despised American money. At another point, she is a barefoot penitent, or, she swivels back and forth like a feather in the wind. Volumes of subtext can be read into these images.

In essence, Lemieux is paying tribute to her father by exploring her own feelings about Quebec. That is the point where her father’s methodology and her own methodology merge together.

To be perfectly frank, I would be happy watching Lemieux perform to Old MacDonald Had a Farm. At 47, she is still one of the most exquisite dancers in the country. In Les cheminements de l’influence, however, she does gives us choreography with substance, which makes for satisfying viewing. Lemieux has crafted an intriguing dance out of a tough theme. How this piece would go down in Montreal and Quebec City is anyone’s guess.

And a final word on The Citadel itself, created by Lemieux and husband Bill Coleman. This old Salvation Army soup kitchen/worship hall has turned into a stunning studio theatre. It’s a welcome new performing space.

Les cheminements de l’influence, choreographed and performed by Laurence Lemieux, The Citadel, Feb. 15 to 25, 2012.