One of Canada's premiere dance companies is proud of its dancers' balletic virtuosity. But according to Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal artistic director Alexandra Damiani, it's equally important that its performances are accessible to large audiences.
In a Zoom call with the Straight, she certainly leaves an impression that this will be on display in Dance Me–Music by Leonard Cohen. It will be performed on-stage on Tuesday (August 30) at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver.
"Leonard Cohen gave his stamp of approval regarding the selection of the songs," Damiani tells the Straight by phone. "He wanted to make sure it wasn't only the hits but also some newer songs."
The multimedia dance show was conceived by Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal's former artistic director, Louis Robitaille and features 14 dancers.
"Leonard Cohen is international, but also very much Montreal," Damiani says, referring to the singer-songwriter-poet's deep connection to the city.
Three choreographers worked to create a cohesive 85-minute show, which includes a giant silhouette and shadow of Cohen.
Damiani describes this production as a "journey", reflecting Cohen's appreciation for taking long walks in the city.
"We almost invite audiences to come take a walk with Leonard—walking through the seasons, walking through his lyrics and his music," she says. "It’s more about the poetry and the essence of that world and going through a journey, through time and space, more than a literal story."
Each choreographer brings certain strengths, she adds, extracting different qualities from the dancers.
Damiani describes Andonis Foniadakis as an inventive choreographer with a wild and energetic approach, which showcases the vitality and youth of the dancers.
Anabelle Lopez Ochoa, on the other hand, is known for her precision, use of light, and understanding of the geometry of space. With her work, audiences lean in, Damiani says.
"It's not coming at us," she adds.
The third choreographer, Ihsan Rustem, is keenly interested in storytelling.
"He really studied the lyrics and the context and the origin of the songs," Damiani says.
While dance and Cohen's music is at the core of Dance Me—Music by Leonard Cohen, other elements come together to create a memorable show.
"It's going to rain; it's going to snow," Damiani promises. "There is also singing happening. It's a very rich show."
So what accounts for the enduring appeal of Cohen?
"The voice of Leonard Cohen is very earthy," she says. "That brings us into the earth.
"Yet at the same time, his poetry elevates us," Damiani continues. "So there is this very interesting tension between earth and heaven.... There is that tension in that space where dance can be choreographed on that music."