Review: L’Implorante & L’éternel voyage (Harbourfront Centre)


L’Implorante and L’éternel are a contrasting dance double-header playing at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre

We’ve all experienced that feeling of uncertainty around art. You stand in front of a work, and even though you know it’s good, you don’t know what to do. How to respond? Every now and then, however, you’ll find something that erases the question: You connect — deeply, almost painfully — and suddenly find that you can’t let go.

L’implorante, a collaboration between the well-known Toronto-based choreographer Sylvie Bouchard (co-founder of Dusk Dances) and Claude Guilmain (Le Théâtre la Tangente) currently showing at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, reaches out of the space where great art makes an unanticipated impact. Bouchard plays an unnamed choreographer who responds with unexpected force to a sculpture she finds in Paris, culminating in a moment of total identification and ecstasy.

Told through text, dance and ingeniously devised video projections by designer Duncan Appleton, the story follows Bouchard from her rehearsal studio to Le Musee Rodin, where she discovers a tragic work by Rodin‘s student and mistress, Camille Claudel. Titled “L’Age mûr” (“Maturity“), Claudel depicts her sense of abandonment when she realizes that Rodin will never leave his wife. In the sculpture, she portrays herself as a young girl on her knees, reaching desperately after an older man who’s being led away by death.

The French word l’implorante refers to someone who pleads or implores, a supplicant. To beg for love and to be denied is a terrible thing — as playwrights and storytellers have often shown — but it has the merit of intensity. When we first encounter Bouchard on stage, she’s cycling through tracks on her iPod and trying out different movements for an unfinished dance. Clearly, she’s feeling frustrated and uninspired. So when she encounters the pathos in Claudel’s portrait of rejection, she finds it irresistible.

As Bouchard slowly starts to mirror those passionate emotions and eventually succumbs to them, it feels as though she’s attempting to do what Rodin couldn’t: to bridge the chasm with Claudel, to match her feelings and desires, and to somehow heal her her broken heart. And in this way, perhaps to find some healing for herself.

I found L’implorante satisfying on many levels, but most of all I loved how Bouchard’s journey with Claudel’s sculpture offers a map or a model for the audience to interact with the performance itself. Rather than thrusting us right into the theatrics, we start out alongside Bouchard in a slightly uneasy place, uncertain of what’s to come. As we watch her evolve into the artwork that has so fascinated her, we become aware of our own encounter with the performance, so that when Bouchard ultimately merges completely with the sculpture, we’re ready to experience the moment deeply.

L’implorante also reminded me how exciting it is when playwrights and choreographers collaborate. (Thus Spoke by Montreal’s Frederick Gravel and writer Etienne Lepage, which ran very successfully at SummerWorks this year, is another great recent example. Are the French leading the way here?) I can see how the need to tell a story could be limiting in contemporary dance, but on the other hand, it feels good to know what’s going on. L’implorante uses storytelling to make an unabashed connection with the audience; the result feels both confident and generous.

I would have been happy if the program ended there, but after an intermission we returned for the second performance of the evening, L’éternel voyage, a piece of choreography for three dancers by Bouchard. Whereas L’implorante demonstrates a very mature sensibility, this piece creates an atmosphere of child-like exploration and enchantment. The dancers frolic and play under a wide netting on a set adorned with clear, helium-filled balloons, as though partying under the sea.

The two works really couldn’t be more different. I suppose they create a counterpoint, but I found it jarring. L’éternel voyage seems to describe our basic childish innocence and how inspiration can flourish in this space of freedom and openness, but to me it just looked like adults imitating children. After the depth and heft of L’implorante, I found myself exasperated by the wide-eyed sweetness of L’éternel voyage. My friend enjoyed it and admired the set, however, and clearly others found it charming. Either way, it doesn’t detract from L’implorante, a brilliantly conceived and memorable work.



Photo of Sylvie Bouchard in L’implorante.