8 February 2023
DANCE ME (Sadler’s Wells Theatre) Ballet Review

This was a dance production from Ballets Jazz Montréal.  The promotion materials said this show was “an exclusive creation inspired by the rich and profound work of […] Leonard Cohen”.  Having seen it now, “inspired” isn’t the word I would’ve gone with.  So let’s look at the show bit by bit.

There is a slick floor down on the stage, and the dancers are wearing socks, which lets them glide in a way that’s really visually appealing and fun.  It really is a beautiful show visually.  It’s part ballet and part modern dance with a hefty lean toward the latter.  The men’s costumes highlight the bodies really well and, for the songs where the men are wearing waistcoats, you can see the lines and the shapes very clearly.  The women’s costumes are another story.  Whilst some of the songs have the ladies wear sports bra-like tops that highlight the range of movement in a very fluid way, most of the songs have them wear what looks like suit jackets.  Those are big and bulky and, though there’s plenty of room in them for the dancers to move, the jackets completely hide the body lines.  What a shame, and what a waste!

However, my biggest gripe with the production is this:  the interpretive dancing fits the music gloriously, but, to my eye, it appears to have very little to do with the contents of the songs.  If you were to take all the words out and leave each song as an instrumental composition, I think I would’ve sat there mesmerised by the shapes in front of me from start to finish.  But…  Cohen’s songs do have words, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t work out how each dance ties into the words in each songs.  Moreover, there are quite a few moves and elements repeated across songs, which then ties right back into the dancing having very little to do with the lyrics, as dance numbers aren’t overly unique the way the songs are.  Also, some of the songs used are in-concert versions and thus include recorded cheers and applause, which feels a bit like cheating because there is very little of that coming from the audience.

Whilst most of the programme fell under the kind of modern dance I expected, there was one cheeky and playful number rooted in synchronicity.  It wasn’t as precise as I would’ve liked it to be, but it made up for it with good humour and creative use of lighting.  That said, it felt like a less-than-crispy version of Mayumana.  If you’re unfamiliar with their craft, check out the first 30 seconds of this video (or the whole video, of course) and one of their classics here (this one is ancient, and I actually saw it live about 20 years ago; there is a 2013 version out there also).

And then, at the end of the show, came the hugest disappointment of them all….  “Hallelujah”.  Of all Leonard Cohen’s songs….  The song wasn’t danced to, but was simply sung by a member of the company with another one backing her on chorus, and it was awful.  Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t off key, nothing like that.  But it was the flattest most soulless rendition I’ve ever heard.  I used to ride the London underground several times a day every day, and every station that permitted busking invariably had a performer belting it out, and even the worst ones of those put more feeling into this song.  I don’t know what Eric Jean (creator and stage director) was thinking here…  There was a bit of appreciative clapping after every number during the show, but not a single person clapped after this train wreck.  The only thing I can suggest at that point is that everyone reading this post, as well as everyone from Ballets Jazz Montréal, immediately check out Raúl Esparza (all hail Raúl, my second favourite stage actor of all times) at The Kennedy Center in New York in September 2011 singing “Hallelujah” at the 10-year evening of remembrance of 9/11.  If it can’t be Leonard Cohen himself, this is how you sing “Hallelujah”…

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £2 (would’ve been more if not for their parting shot).

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