Review: Elvis & The Man in Black (Citadel + Compagnie)

Toronto’s Citadel + Compagnie presents a dance program inspired by Elvis and Johnny Cash

You might think that a show entitled Elvis & The Man in Black was a music concert. But it’s not. It’s actually an evening of dance currently being performed by Citadel + Compagnie. The two pieces shown are each inspired by and set to the music of a legend of 20th century American music – Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

The evening began with Looking for Elvis, choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Laurence Lemieux. The dance is performed by five men and two women dressed in street clothes. They move as if in slow motion, stretching, contracting, and spinning. The movement is angular, with off kilter hips and outstretched arms. Although often there is more than one dancer on stage at a time, for most of the piece they aren’t really dancing together. Each one moves in isolation as if in his or her own world.

The piece has no clear story line. Instead, it explores the difficulties of life in the spotlight and the struggles of fame. The soundtrack consists of Presley songs interspersed with excerpts from interviews with Presley. Most of the music is slow and filled with longing. The image of Elvis being conjured is not the King of Rock and Roll but more the country crooner. At first, I kept waiting for the beat to pick up. But by the end I was captivated by the emotions being conveyed and by the technical skill of the dancers.

The Man in Black, choreographed by James Kudelka, continued the mood of isolation and loneliness. Kudelka sets his piece to six songs written by Johnny Cash, but in this case, performed by other artists. One woman and three men in cowboy boots and western clothing form chains and break apart. The movement is reminiscent of country western social dancing, with elements of line dancing, square dance, and swing. The dancers strut, saunter, and swagger with thumbs hooked into their belts. There are some beautiful lifts and partnering sequences. But even though they are holding hands for most of the piece, the dancers seem alone. They don’t look at each other or at the audience, which adds to the sense of melancholy.

I thought the dancers were uniformly excellent each communicating so much emotion through their movement. I also liked the performance space. It was quite small which really allowed me to see the dancers faces and bodies up close. I think Elvis & The Man in Black would be a good introduction to contemporary dance for someone new to the art form. The music is accessible and familiar. Even though there is no story, it’s not hard to follow or imagine what the choreographers are trying to communicate.

This was my first time seeing Citadel + Compagnie perform, and I left wondering why I had waited so long.

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Photo of the company by John Lauener

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