It started with the single word that would become its title, Stations, but how Louise Lecavalier’s latest work took shape from there provides a vivid illustration of how the dance icon’s singular creative mind works.
Reached in her hometown of Montreal, where she is taking a rare day off from rehearsals to focus on other tasks—including an interview with the Straight—Lecavalier notes that working on a collaborative piece with UBU compagnie de création put her in mind of spiritual matters.
UBU’s Les Marguerites(s) was inspired in part by the story of Marguerite Porete, a Christian mystic who was burned at the stake for heresy in the 14th century. That got Lecavalier thinking about the Catholic tradition of the Stations of the Cross, those artistic depictions of Jesus Christ on the route to his crucifixion.
And while she was ruminating on that, Lecavalier got to thinking of subway stations, particularly those of the Montreal Metro.
“It was interesting for me that this word had something very dramatic about it and something very pedestrian, or almost casual—the day-to-day thing of the [subway] stations, no drama at all,” she says. “So I liked this word because of that, because it had something of being stationary; like not moving and moving at the same time, going from station to station.”
In fact, Lecavalier could have very easily given the solo piece—which she debuted on Valentine’s Day in 2020 at Düsseldorf’s tanzhaus nrw—the title Station to Station. Of course, that title was already taken. David Bowie used it for an album in 1976, the title track of which he performed on his Sound+Vision tour in 1990.
This is worth noting because the artistic director for that tour was Édouard Lock, the founder of long-running Montreal contemporary-dance company La La La Human Steps. Lecavalier was that company’s principal dancer and its public face from 1981 to 1999. During that era, she worked with Bowie a number of times, including dancing a duet with him on Korean-American artist Nam June Paik’s Wrap Around the World broadcast, produced for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Lecavalier also performed on several high-profile stops of the Sound+Vision tour and was featured in Bowie’s “Fame 90” music video.
It was largely through these appearances, and her performances at the 1992 concerts that would form the basis of Frank Zappa’s final album, The Yellow Shark, that Lecavalier became the closest thing one can get to being a rock star in the world of contemporary dance. There was definitely something rock ’n’ roll about her approach to Lock’s choreography, all fearless barrel rolls and whipping blond tresses.
Three decades later, people still want to ask Lecavalier questions about working with Bowie and Zappa. She doesn’t mind, although she does make it clear that the aforementioned “rock star” status is not something she has ever pursued; her priority has always been to deepen what she calls her “research” in movement.
“It was special, the immediate rapport that I had with these two amazing human beings and performers—really brilliant and charismatic and all of that,” she says of Bowie and Zappa. “So it’s very powerful to meet with people like this, and it changed my life, even if it didn’t change my research. It changed something about my performance on-stage. It was already there, but it confirmed so many things for me.”
In some ways, Stations is a culmination of Lecavalier’s journey through dance. It is certainly her most personal work to date, with the 64-year-old Order of Canada recipient performing a solo show of her own choreography for the first time. Lecavalier undeniably remains a potent force on-stage, long past the age at which many dancers would have retired. She, on the other hand, has no immediate plans to slow down.
It could be argued, in fact, that she’s just getting started. Her career in dance has spanned over 40 years so far, but it is only in the past decade or so that her focus has started to shift to choreography. She has certainly had ample opportunity to learn from some of the best, not just in her long-standing collaboration with Lock, but also in her work with Canadian dancer-choreographer (and former zen monk) Tedd Robinson.
“We had a good connection, once I got acquainted to his movement,” Lecavalier says of Lock. “What he was making was very close to me. He didn’t have to direct me in the interpretation. That’s why we continued so long to work together. And I could have continued forever; it’s just that he went towards ballet, and then I was kind of a loner in this ballet company, and this was not so interesting for me to be with a huge group of 25 people. I prefer working with less people altogether.”
As for Robinson, Lecavalier says she felt not just a creative spark with him, but also a spiritual connection: “Tedd said to me that I was probably the only dancer who was curious enough to move like him. I had made this strong effort to find how Édouard was moving, and I really liked that. When a movement is so special and specific, different from what you learn in dance classes, then I get intrigued, and if it talks to me, then I try it. It was the same with Tedd, he moved in a very peculiar way, and I liked it, so I learned his moves. He was surprised that I was ready to learn so many moves of his, so we created this little duet for him and me that was awkward and strange and that I really enjoyed.”
Lecavalier founded her own company, Fou glorieux, in 2006, and her tireless research continues—not just into choreography, but into every aspect of a production, from set decoration and lighting to video editing.
“Everything I discover, I take my time to discover,” she says. “Maybe in a few years I start to choreograph with other people, so it’s gonna be another chapter that opens. I feel often like a beginner, and that’s a great feeling, to feel like a beginner. Feeling like a big pro, maybe I would sit home and look at the stuff I did before. But I’m still very enthusiastic—maybe stupidly enthusiastic—about simple discoveries, and that keeps me going.”