By GUS SOLOMONS JR.
With Chopin’s “Preludes Op. 28” playing intermittently, ever so faintly, in the background, six exquisitely muscled, nude dancers navigate the broad expanse of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery in Daniel Léveillé’s “Le pudeur des icebergs” (“The Modesty of Icebergs”).
In its second sold-out appearance in as many seasons at Danspace Project January 6 through 9, Montreal-based Daniel Léveillé Danse again proves the expressive power of the unclothed human physique, moving utterly without affect, but with near-flawless precision that belies the astonishing difficulty of the movement.
As in his “Amour, acide et noix,” seen here last year, Léveillé builds his dances from a lexicon of archetypal shapes—deep lunges, hunched squats, explosive jumps and lifts, which he combines and recombines among the dancers to build physical drama. The dancers regard their nakedness nonchalantly, defying us to confront our own taboos about it.
Léveillé exploits the expressive power in the bare physics of movement—a slight knee-bend before catapulting into a jump, a stabilizing assist to a dancer descending from a lift, the jarring lurch that being pushed while airborne causes upon landing; dead-stop landings from big jumps that require perfect control. Naked, the muscular dancers force us to perceive unhindered the full expression of pure motion.
When supple Ivana Ilicevic—the troupe’s only woman—flies into a sitting posture in midair and is caught by sturdy Stéphane Gladyszewski, who then carries her forward and tosses her onto her feet, you get a visceral jolt; after the third repetition, our kinesthetic reaction becomes an emotional response. When Dave St. Pierre – the smallest in stature, but pound for pound arguably the strongest—reprises the sequence, lifting the burly Gladyszewski, their risk and our emotion escalate.
The formal structure has dancers emerging from a waiting line upstage into the space for carefully measured solos, duets, trios. Dancers touch only when lifting each other, which they do with ritualistic coolness. Periodically, they exit or enter the space unexpectedly, matter-of-factly.
Nearly halfway through the hour-long piece, Frédéric Boivin—ideally proportioned, shaven-headed, with a soft coat of body hair—makes his first appearance and reprises motifs from previous solos. He lifts his knee high then thrusts the leg backward and bends impossibly low to the ground; he turns in the air, landing motionless in a parallel squat with face upturned; he extends a leg high in an ultra slow-motion karate kick. Even though we’ve seen the younger dancers perform the same vocabulary, Boivin’s mature presence gives it renewed resonance.
Léveillé sparsely sprinkles into his minimalist choreography anomalous gestures that momentarily puncture the abstraction: St. Pierre furiously scratches at his skin from ankles up to neck and back down again. Tall, broad-shouldered Emmanuel Proulx and Mathieu Campeau, sporting a ponytail and goatee, stand side by side in a wide stance, slowly stroking their own thighs and nipples. Ilicevic and Boivin roll their shoulders back into a luxurious arch. These personal gestures and the ensuing—undeniably suggestive—buttock clutching, momentarily remind us of nudity’s sexual implications.
A defining image of the work is a pile of the six bodies in a heap reminiscent of the shape of an iceberg. As Marc Parent’s subtly modulated lighting models the facets of the sculptural mound for an extended passage of time, the suggestions it summons in our imaginations are both abstract and narrative. Finally, the audience who may have come to be shocked or titillated is inevitably moved by Léveillé’s singular artistic rigorousness, and by the dignity and vulnerability of his talented troupe.