A spellbinding tribute to Leonard Cohen

Photo by Per Victor

Cohenites rejoice! Another year, and another tribute to Montreal’s legendary singer, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen, is upon us. The Centaur Theatre Company will be hosting the North American debut of Dance Me To The End On/Off Love, bringing this artistic creation, which is originally from Denmark, to Montreal. The show is a synthesis of theatrical disciplines: it intertwines them to create an amalgam that is part dance, part concert and part performance art. This inspired production is as highly captivating as it is unusual.

Palle Granhøj, the professional dancer and internationally acclaimed Danish director responsible for the drama, is known for having developed a form of dance called “the obstruction technique.” Essentially, when putting together his choreography, he would ask the dancers to perform a certain move but then disrupt it with a restriction. By doing this, a struggle would be created, and a yearning for completion would be manifested in the dancer’s expressions.

This craving for liberation is brought to stage as a reflection of a myriad of Cohen’s characteristically melancholic songs. The result is a highly emotional depiction of desire and isolation, in its most sensual form, on stage.

Beloved songs such as “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and the title song, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” all make an appearance throughout the show, in a unique arrangement of dialogue-free renditions of some of Cohen’s most famous songs. Demonstrating emotion through motion, themes of sexuality, rejection and the examination of relationships are also evoked as the hypnotizing musical-dance interpretations play out on stage.

The dimly-lit stage, designed by visual director Per Victor, was minimally but artfully styled with a uniform array of black cloths, cubes, tables, and boards. Even the performers are dressed head to toe in black when it comes to attire, with their suits, jump suits and dresses. And, as if that is not austere enough, no fewer than 20 bald mannequin head props serve to illustrate the gravity of feelings of the performers‘ sketches, inviting the audience to examine the beautiful as well as the grotesque.

Thankfully, there are sufficient moments of comic relief interspersed throughout the show to alleviate the audience from the austerity. Other Cohen songs such as “Sisters of Mercy,” “Famous Blue Rain Coat” and “I’m Your Man” make the crowd roar with laughter, as the performers take liberties reinterpreting the lyrics to suit their characters.

Continually changing pace, from tragedy to hilarity, all 13 performers act, dance, sing and play instruments in some capacity on stage. Guitars, a double bass, cymbals and even a ukelele are used to bring Cohen’s words to life, as they are played and sung live on stage. The particular vocal talents of Palle Klok and Dorte Petersen are hauntingly memorable, as they capture both the elements of sadness and playfulness Cohen’s lyrics usually embody.

Better described as a dance-concert, this groundbreaking theatrical production successfully translates Cohen’s evocative words onto the human body through dance, video and written word. Though imaginative and albeit eccentric, the performance transports viewers to an otherworldly place, a realm of contrasts, where joy and sorrow coexist and they can sway to “dancing violins.”

Dance Me To The End On/Off Love plays at the Centaur Theatre until April 14.

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