In the Battleground with Louise Lecavalier

Louise Lecavalier and Robert Abubo in Battleground.

Well, for someone who doesn’t exist, you seem in fine form!
From The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

Louise Lecavalier created the duet Battleground in 2016. This week she’ll bring it to the National Arts Centre for performances on Jan. 15 and 16.

The duet started as many of her projects do in an empty studio with no particular idea in mind.

“I didn’t go into the studio with the book in mind. The fact that I was filming myself in the studio something new then. It is the first piece I created while filming sequences.

“I was working in a new studio with a mirror and I thought it would be disturbing because I wasn’t used to the mirror.”

So she stood far away from the glass and started moving.

Louise Lecavalier. Photo: Massimo Chiaradia

“By placing myself at the farthest end of the studio away, I saw a figure moving but I not myself. It’s disturbing to see yourself and your expressions while dancing. I don’t like that.”

But because of the distance, she became intrigued by the indistinct figure.

“I chose to animate this figure.”

In the evening she watched what was filmed and the environment had produced  something very graphic.

Talk about your out of body experience. These days, she says, she works closer to the mirror and is used to seeing herself move.

Four years ago, the dance that started to form in her mind was something abstract.

“That’s how the character of The Nonexistent Knight came back to my mind. I had read it several years before. I found the book in a bookstore in Paris France and the title attracted me.”

The Nonexistent Knight is, in part, a fantasy story about Agilulf, a chevalier of the legendary king of the Franks, Charlemagne. Agilulf is, in fact, a lucid empty suit of armour.

Lecavalier was struck by the book about a character that doesn’t exist.

“For a dancer, this idea is really interesting. Sometimes dancers focus on the body, the body, the body. In other cases it’s all about the emotions and the body doesn’t matter all that much. It’s more the ideas.

“Because there was no body in the armour it’s sort of like having the mind the knight. It became interesting for me to animate this idea.”

Lecavalier is best known as a very physical performer, that feels limiting to her. She feel “so much that my mind is working all the time. The body and the mind are connected. If people focus too much on the physical side, I have to say I’m sorry it’s also the mind very very much.

“Dancers have minds too. Often people see the thinker as the choreographer and the dancer as the one who executes the thought. More and more it’s not like this.”

If dancer doesn’t have the intelligence to make something out of the choreography, it’s probably not worth watching, she said.

“It’s just a class exercise. The dancer has to always bring something to the choreographer. It is a symbiotic relationship.”

Some dancers might prefer to just execute, they don’t want to put too much of their own emotions into something, she said.

“But for me that’s impossible. When I go into the studio I don’t necessarily have something in mind. I know that I am open to discover and I am willing to work hard. I like that ideas appear in this process.”

She likes discovering things. That is why she said she liked to work with Édouard Lock in La La La Human Steps, the legendary Quebecois dance company. But that doesn’t mean her practice has stayed the same now that she has her own company Fou Glorieux.

“When I left La La La, I was afraid people would phone me up just to do some of the flips.” She was known for flying through the air.

The first person who asked she said right away “I’m not going to do this. This was with Édouard.”

She is still known for the physicality of her dance. She takes risks these days too, but in different ways.

“I could do a flip if I needed to, but I don’t want to do them anymore.”

Battleground too has evolved from its premiere. The choreography is the same but, she says, her dancing has changed somewhat.

“It’s impossible for it to stay the same,” she said because she has, after trying other moves and creating other dances, changed too.

It’s a natural development. And today she sees new ways the advance the story of the nonexistent knight and his acolyte.

“Each time I come back to (Battleground) there are parts of the show that I want to develop and change.

The world was a loud place in 2016. Lecavalier says that she does hear the outside noise when she is creating “but it’s never a direct thing.”

There are other influences that shaped Battleground including the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, some of which she was watching with her kids. In these films, there were characters with no faces and she picked up on that.

“It’s as if I wanted to erase the individual and keep the mind. The mind can be absurd because sometimes we are absurd. The gestures are strange and not logical in  Battleground.”

It fits then that Lecavalier is a fan of absurdist theatre.

“I have liked it for a long time. The characters spoke to me. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) is one the first plays I saw as a teenager. I have kept it in my mind all my life. She also likes Eugene Ionescu’s The Chairs.

The dancers in Battleground are dressed in black. When she went looking for a dance partner for Battleground, “I wanted someone with no hair. I wanted a round face that would become faceless.” She, on the other hand, wore a hoodie.

She ended up working with Robert Abubo, who is bald.

His character is like a character called Gurdulù in the novel. This other character is instinct and emotion. The two dancers are then trapped in the struggle of the Battleground.

After her show at the NAC she’ll be headed to Germany with a new piece that will be presented in Dusseldorf, Munster and Dresden in February. The road goes ever on for Lecavalier.

Fou glorieux/Louise Lecavalier presents Battleground
Where: Babs Asper Theatre, NAC
When: Jan. 15 & 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.