Dance duo Lee Su-Feh and Benoît Lachambre dive into sensation

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It is a drizzly weekday morning in an upstairs studio on the industrial East Side waterfront, and dance artist Lee Su-Feh is lying back on a mountain of what look like multicoloured sleeping bags as she talks. The slippery teal, red, green, and blue fabrics rustle as she moves.

This isn’t the ultra-chilled-out lounge area of the rehearsal room; these are central pieces in Lee and Montreal-based dancer-choreographer Benoît Lachambre’s new duet. In Body-Scan: Sweet Gyre, the creator-performers will slither and roll through the satiny mound.

“We want to get the viewer to dive into the sensation of the work,” explains Lachambre, who’s sitting on a nearby chair before rehearsing the duet. “We’re using touch—that was one of our main ideas we started with early on.”

“It’s to remind us all that we all live in sensation and that’s the body we share,” adds Lee. “Because often in dance it’s all about the athletic and virtuosic and heroic body, and people often watch that and say, ‘That’s not my body.’ But this is saying, ‘I’m here on-stage, but my body is your body and we share that pleasure and sensation.’ ”

The pair have come together from opposite ends of the country to re-create the piece as their own duet, after it debuted in 2008 at the Festival Les Antipodes in Brest, France, as a work for six dancers. It’s an artistic collaboration that has been almost two decades in the making: the two first caught each other’s eye at festivals in the mid ’90s. Lee is best known as the cofounder of the company battery opera, while Lachambre began his career with the likes of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (now called BJM) and Toronto Dance Theatre, and now runs Montreal’s Par B.L.eux; after his gig here he heads straight to Stockholm for the debut of his second work for the acclaimed Cullberg Ballet. They come from different cultural realms of dance: Lachambre has worked extensively in Europe, while Lee hails from Malaysia and has a strong base in Chinese martial arts. However, they seem to connect on a more innate, philosophical level (“about how we inhabit the body”, as Lee puts it). Lee has always wanted to create work with Lachambre; she describes it as a “long-time art crush”.

They laugh when remembering the original creation process in Brest, where they explored the ideas of touch and sensation. “If you looked in the office at any given time, we were massaging each other or something, and the administration would often look in the window and see piles of bodies rolling over each other and moaning,” Lee says, smiling.

Later, they decided to use the sleeping-bag fabric (resewn by a scenographer) for its colours, its feel, and the sounds the synthetic fabric made when it moved. Then came the ski clothing, made from a similar polyester material and found at a secondhand store, resewn into costumes for the piece.

Lachambre and Lee are using all those elements for the new rendition of the work, and say they are digging deeper into the themes for this more stripped-down, two-person version, which, like the first, is set to the live music of Vancouver artist Jesse Zubot. It’s clear, in the rehearsal process, that there is a lot of pleasure that comes in a piece that is, well, all about pleasure. And that may run in contrast to work the prolific performers have done for other companies over their long and busy careers.

“In dance, the body sort of tries to aim for this hugely impressive movement—pushing the body to break,” Lachambre says thoughtfully. “We’re not saying this is not valid, it’s just not our interest.”

“We’re trying to reawaken ourselves, and hopefully the audience, to experience pleasure that maybe we take for granted every day,” Lee adds, before starting rehearsal. “It’s a very luscious experience just to be.” 

Body-Scan: Sweet Gyre is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre next Thursday to Saturday (February 14 to 16).

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