A naked woman stands before us—small, strong, with the calm face of a Piero della Francesca Madonna. I can’t see much of the also-naked man who stands, bent-kneed, behind her, his hands holding her waist. Many seconds pass. A Beethoven piano sonata is coming to an end. Suddenly the woman is in the air, legs kicking out. Just as suddenly, she’s down again. Waiting. This time the man lifts her straight up, turns her in the air, catches her, and returns her to her place. The purity of these unadorned actions takes my breath away.
When these dancers (Esther Gaudette and Stéphane Gladyszewski) begin Crépuscule des océans (Twilight of the Oceans) by Montreal choreographer Daniel Léveillé, she’s wearing a black-bathing-suit leotard, he black trunks and T-shirt. In unison, they lay out a vocabulary similar to the one Léveillé employed in his Amour, acide, et noix and La Pudeur des icebergs (seen here in 2003 and 2005). Each blocky move—deep lunges, martial-art kicks, somersaults, supported handstands, sudden drops into a crossed-legged sitting position—is set off from what preceded it and what follows, and each is performed with the controlled force of an expletive.
In the five scrupulously designed sequences that I counted, the dancers don’t do “steps”: They enter and leave the performing area or move to new spots by walking briskly. Running in a curve comes as a big surprise. Gaudette and Gladyszewski, Frédéric Boivin, Mathieu Campeau, Katie Ewald, Justin Gionet, and Emmanuel Proulx appear mostly by twos and threes, one group exiting shortly after the next one enters. Sometimes there’s Beethoven, sometimes only silence. Sometimes they’re clothed, sometimes not. In their efficiency, the channeled thrust of their energy, and their impassiveness, they’re like animals. Their nakedness enhances that simplicity. Like horses, they don’t hide their anuses.
Seeing the same movements and held positions over and over in new combinations, joined by new developments, we come to know them by heart, to discern similarities and differences. When Gladyszewski does the Australian crawl, belly down, going nowhere fast, Gaudette grasps his ankle with one hand and attempts to “swim,” too (this is one of the few obvious references to the piece’s title). Much later, Gladyszewski and Campeau synchronize their strokes. Campeau ends the work with a long, arduous solo. He squats and holds up tense fists. His repeated turns on one leg look as if he’s trying to push up from underwater into the light. Although the dancer makes us feel stupendous human effort, Léveillé’s work allies people with elemental forces—rocks enduring the tide, tectonic plates shifting.