Review: Elvis and the Man in Black (Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie)

Looking for Elvis full cast

The tunes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash are brought to life in dance in Elvis and the Man in Black at Toronto’s Citadel

The Citadel was packed tight on the opening night of Coleman and Lemieux’s Elvis and the Man in Black. There was even a waitlist to see this dance show about two great musicians. The space was certainly lively, with everyone chatting up a storm before the show started. My neighbour, whom I met as I sat down, was eager to chat with me about the show we were about to see.

As the name indicates, Elvis and the Man in Black, was about none other than Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Two of my favourite musicians. The Man in Black, choreographed by James Kudelka, opened the show. Square dances, country dances, and good ol’ country grit were definitely inspirations for this work.

The Man in Black, was a fun and out going piece originally created for BalletMet in Coumbus, Ohio in 2010. Kudelka tried to show the grit that is so deeply embedded in Cash’s music. This is a little hard to do with truly stunning dancers. Making the dancers do the box step does not hide their perfectly trained lines.

I felt that the costuming aesthetics of dancers in jeans, plaid, and cowboy boots while they performed the two-step ad nauseum so it became impressive again, was less innovate and more of a money grab. I was also a bit disappointed that most of the songs Kudelka chose to work with for The Man in Black were songs Cash covered rather than his originals. In the early 2000’s Cash covered a series of popular songs when he had fallen out of the limelight and was looking for a bit of a comeback.

Wednesday night was the premier of Laurence Lemieux’s Looking for Elvis. These piece came after intermission and wrapped up the evening. In addition to using Elvis’ music Lemieux also used excerpts from interviews with the man himself. These excerpts paired with the dancing and her expertly and sparsely chosen songs started to become poignant in the last portion of the work. Through out the work Lemieux was using movements that have been done over and over again in the Toronto dance scene.

When she finally stepped away from that and started exploring her thesis in her own way was when the work picked up a little bit. This happened about two thirds of the way through the piece when one of the dancers stepped out of a line and was dressed by some of the other dancers. In these few minutes the work started to coalesce, the theme became clear. Rather than just celebrating Elvis’ music, Laurence Lemieux looked at the duality of being a public performer and icon, and being a private person.

Even when I understood the heart of the work, I found it difficult to see the contrast between the representation of his public and private lives. Most of the dancing was done in a sustained slow motion. This worked in some parts of the show where Lemieux was building to a climax, but it made the rest seem longer than necessary.

I was drawn in to see Elvis and the Man in Black by my love of these two musicians. Watching the dancing, there were no real surprises good or bad. Kudelka and Lemieux are two established artists in Toronto and are a safe bet to check out if you like their work.

Details

  • Elvis and the Man in Black is playing until May 31 at The Citadel (304 Parliament Street)
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm
  • Ticket prices range from $20, and are available online, or by phone at 416.364.8011

Photo of DaRyan Boorne, Michael Caldwell, Luke Garwood, Tyler Gledhill, Daniel McArthur, Erin Poole, Christianne Ullmark by John Lauener