Dancing with Leonard Cohen: Ballets Jazz Montréal in Beverly Hills

United StatesUnited States Ballets Jazz Montréal’s Dance Me – Music by Leonard Cohen: Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Ihsan Rustem (choreographers), Ballets Jazz Montréal. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills, 10.5.2024. (JRo)

Ballets Jazz Montréal’s Dance Me © Thierry du Bois

Ideation – Louis Robitaille
Dramaturgy and Stage direction – Eric Jean
Music Direction – Martin Léon
Sets and Props – Pierre-Etienne Locas
Costumes – Philippe Dubuc
Lighting – Cédric Delorme-Bouchard, Simon Beetschen
Sound – Alexis Dumais
Videos – HUB Studio: Gonzalo Soldi, Thomas Payette, Jeremy Fassio

Dancers – Alyssa Allen, Gustavo Barros, Yosmell Calderon Mejias, John Canfield, Tuti Cedeno, Astrid Dangeard, Shanna Irwin, Miu Kato, DaMond LeMonte Garner, Larissa Leung, Austin Lichty, Marcel Mejia, Andrew Mikhaiel

Vocalists – Astrid Dangeard (‘So Long, Marianne’), DaMond LeMonte Garner and Astrid Dangeard (‘Hallelujah’)

Dance Me seduces the eye and, above all, the ear with the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s recorded music serves as the soundtrack for interpretation by three choreographers – Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Ihsan Rustem. Cohen approved of the enterprise and requested that the company use songs from his full body of work rather than focusing on his greatest hits. In general, the interpretations were soulful, as befits Cohen’s moving explorations of love and loss. The evening had the aura of dancers and the audience gathered at a memorial service for a beloved friend.

There were visual moments of pure Leonard, particularly when dancers, dressed in gray suits and wearing hats like his signature trilby, walked to and fro. The hat served as a symbol of the poet and became as potent as Charlie Chaplin’s bowler. It reminded me of Hans Richter’s Ghosts Before Breakfast, a Dada film that featured bowler hats flying gracefully through the air.

In fourteen sequences danced to Cohen’s recordings, the choreographers grappled with the import of his words and music. Two songs were sung by company dancers Astrid Dangeard and DaMond LeMonte Garner and featured no movement.

The artists of Ballets Jazz Montréal managed all the choreographic twists and turns, bringing a lyricism to their dancing that is often missing in the athletically proficient dancers of modern dance companies. But it is Cohen’s music that elevated the choreography, infusing the dances with meaning and purpose.

Ballets Jazz Montréal’s Dance Me

To the incomparable ‘Dance Me’, a woman in an oversized white shirt ran on stage and flung herself into the arms of her male partner, the marvelous Andrew Mikhaiel. Different women, dressed similarly, took turns dancing in his arms, and each partnering had an intimacy that managed to convey sensuality without exaggerated sexuality. The interpretation was pitch perfect.

The ‘Boogie Street’ lyrics tell of a singer who, wounded by love, returns to the back alleys of Boogie Street. The choreographer (nowhere in the program could I find attributions for each sequence) opted for a more literal approach, but the intertwined and rolling bodies on the floor expressed more than was needed and did a disservice to Cohen’s subtle lyrics.

The pas de deux of ‘Steer Your Way’ featured wisps of tango. A kick of the leg (almost like an afterthought), a flick of the hand, a graceful cock of the head – all added piquancy and complemented the dissonant strings in the music. The pas de deux danced to ‘Suzanne’ was a poignant tribute to love’s abiding power. The male dancer draped his partner around his neck like a scarf, then became her chair, then her swing. Gliding onto his legs she became the masthead of his ship. Imagery matched words like a tender embrace.

Props, lighting and video projections were used to great effect, always illuminating and never intruding. A dozen or so knee-high cubes, situated at the back of the stage in a line, served first as stepping stones, then as mini desks complete with typewriters, then as stools. The ‘Tower of Song’ sequence used the cubes to whimsical effect. Dancers were stationed on their backs with their torsos and heads invisible, covered by a low screen. Each performer lay in between a set of cubes with bare legs pointing upwards. Pairs of limbs frolicked like disembodied Busby Berkeley chorus girls. Large red lips, projected on a screen behind the legs, mouthed a few bars of the song, completing the delightful picture.

For eighty minutes, Ballets Jazz Montréal enthralled, calling up the spirit of Leonard Cohen. But it was Cohen’s gravelly voice, haunting melodies and rich poetry that held me in an embrace.

Jane Rosenberg

4 thoughts on “Dancing with Leonard Cohen: Ballets Jazz Montréal in Beverly Hills”

  1. Wonderful review! ‘… a memorial for a beloved friend.’
    Made us listen to Dance Me again and again, and meditate on love and loss

  2. I was not in town for the performance. Based on your excellent and informative review, I hope I can see the performancein the future.


Leave a Comment