Life & Culture

Dance review: Dance Me 'If you are a Leonard Cohen fan you will love it'

Ballets Jazz Montreal's latest show is a mixed bag


Dance Me


Leonard Cohen’s work does not perhaps, immediately spring to mind as the ideal accompaniment to dance. His poetry and songs are often deep, dark and rather bleak.

So it was with a degree of scepticism that I attended Ballets Jazz Montreal’s performance of Dance Me, a collection of dances set to the songs and words by Montreal-born Cohen. The production was approved by Cohen before his death in 2016 and contains pieces by three contemporary choreographers: Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Ihsan Rustem.

The dancers perform with intensity; some pieces work better than others. A lot of the movement is set close to the ground, with the dancers in deep plies, their arms swirling around; lifts come as a surprise, punctuating the air with power. Some of the choreography was repetitive – I longed for some quick footwork to break the pattern of movement.

Sets are minimal, as are the costumes – simple trousers and tops for the men, the women frequently in skimpier versions of the same. The lighting is extremely effective and highlights the beauty of the dancers’ bodies; sometimes it is barely there, focusing on hands or feet in the darkness, sometimes the lights blaze out into the audience.

There are moments to treasure: Rustem’s Dance Me to the End of Love was powerful and Boogie Street (by Foniadakis) had a sultry vibe. My favourite piece was Rustem’s pas de deux set to Suzanne, which was luminous in its beauty. Hallelujah, the anthem for which Cohen is most famous, did not make an appearance until nearly the end of the evening and was sung (rather well) by a couple of the dancers.

Dance Me is a mixed bag – if you are a Leonard Cohen fan you will love it, but if not, it is still worth a look. One gripe: all the words in the programme are printed in a tiny font against a background of dark images of the dancers in performance, making a lot of the pages hard, if not impossible to read.

Ballets Jazz Montreal is performing Dance Me – Music by Leonard Cohen at Sadlers Wells, London EC1 until 14 February

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