Love's old, sweet (?) song

Gravel/Lombardo duo's dance collage; once more, with feeling 

Hang on -- lemme check out them tats. Photo: Daniel Paquet

In This Duet that We’ve Already Done (so many times), reprised last week at The Cultch,Montréal choreographer Frédérick Gravel stakes a credible claim to be the greatest dancecollagist since Henri Matisse. Together with co-star Brianna Lombardo, he’s pieced together an exuberant tableau entirely made up of unrelated musical and gestural scraps. 

Each snippet has its own vivid mood and texture. The ‘scenes’ are just slapped down, ragged-edged, one on top of the other, with no attempt at elision. Yet the whole 75-minute farrago miraculously – and touchingly – coheres in a dramatic arc from coy flirtation to a grand, self-immolating amour, only to ebb back into tentative, half-remembered nostalgia.

Along the way, composer/sound designer Stéphane Boucher buoys us with soupy show tunes or twangy cowboy ballads (sometimes voiced by Gravel himself), all interspersed with volleys of percussive, reverberant electronica. Gravel and Lombardo adjust their costumes from casual street dress to sweaty semi-undress and then back again; lighting designer Alexandre Pilon-Guay dials his spots down and back up, accordingly.

Like shy preschoolers, the dancers start out with ‘parallel play’ – each cuts some stiff, mannequin antics, which the other studiously ignores. After a few rounds, though, their indifference escalates into a stylized rivalry, a bit like a karate dojo

They grab each other by their topknots and fling about the stage. But then the music morphs from a grungy boogaloo into breathless bolero and, instead of vicious smack-downs, the dancers now pitch themselves into torrid clinches.

That’s when the shirts come off and, under the dimmed lights, the duo launches into a series of achingly exquisite arabesques. Intertwined, cantilevered, he’s the prow and she the figurehead of some composite dreadnaught, braving billows of passion. Until they founder under the waves and sink into the subaqueous gloom of the spotlights – twitching, gently twitching, like seabed fronds.

When the lights come up again, they’re so disentangled that they hardly seem to even remember each other. Lombardo lies splayed on the stage, spent. Gravel casually perches on her prone form as though resting on a random scrap of beached flotsam. 

He gradually collects himself and resumes his halting mannequin moves. She looks on, head quizzically cocked as though lending a bemused ear to the seashell echo of some distant sea surf.

Sitting just a couple of rows up from the stage beside my bride of 40+ years, I could almost hear an echo of that echo myself. The final coda may have been drawn out about ten minutes too long, Ahloong and I agreed. But Gravel’s definitely onto something about the trajectory of grands amours. No matter how many times we’ve done that duet, it forever retains its piquancy.





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