Review: The art of degeneration (DanceWorks)

Acclaimed Toronto choreographer & dancer premieres thought-provoking full-length solo on decay, rebirth and celebrity.

In his first solo dance show, The art of degeneration (DanceWorks), Louis Laberge-Côté offers up meditations on decay, immorality, and self-destruction. His endearing, mischievous sense of humour transforms The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance into a lushly-coloured romp through history, both personal and public. With moves that find the hidden grace in things falling apart, being vulnerable with your demons is the only way to survive.

Laberge-Côté frames his show around the idea that our ability to discern real from fake is enjoyable precisely because it is unreliable. We can be fooled, and he does not let us forget it. He turns our expectations of how a story should progress on its head in small, playful ways that never let wonder run too low.

On a personal level, the work speaks to an almost career-ending injury, which forced Laberge-Côté to reassess his life as a dancer and its relationship to who he was. He presents the madness and despair of it, of realizing that we could lose everything at any minute, with choreography that pulls you into the confusion of identity in flux.

He adds context by playing historical figures branded as degenerates by society—Elvis, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marie Antoinette—erasing the distance between their public and private selves with intimate, deeply-felt portrayals. In so doing, Laberge-Côté returns us to the idea that there are no fixed rules to who we are beyond those we decide to adhere to. His Elvis tribute is perhaps the most joyous expression of this, during which many an unconstrained smile filled the room.

When it comes to audience engagement, Laberge-Côté is a connoisseur of the fourth wall, stepping through it at leisure as the God of his show’s universe. He establishes a loose atmosphere of rehearsal from moment one, that lets us step into the performance and invest in it, setting ourselves up to have our emotions tested at every turn. Through The art of degeneration, he re-acquaints us with the full spectrum of what it feels like to feel.

My guest, Tristan, made note of the difficulty of losing yourself in a story that regularly pulls you in and out of it. Once one adjusts for this by throwing expectations out the door, she said, Laberge-Côté’s technical prowess and committed performance cannot be denied.

His is a diva-scale presence that conjures movements that land in the gut. What a balm to watch someone luxuriate from gesture to gesture, mining experience for new rhythms to smooth out the edges of suffering. After a couple decades in the dance business, it is safe to say that the wait has been justified for such a rousing solo debut.


    • The art of degeneration is playing October 31-November 3, 2018 at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance (304 Parliament).
    • Shows run at 8:00pm.
    • Ticket prices range from $15-$42 and are available online, or in person at the box office.

Photo of Louis Laberge-Côté by Jeremy Mimnagh.