Two Icons Walk Into The Opera House

By John Swartz

Elvis and The Man in Black; it’s a title which creates a certain image with no explanation needed for many people. As a dance work though, many might not see the correlation. Elvis and Johnny Cash are both icons of latter day 20th century popular music. Only one of them danced, at least on a stage, and then some might wonder out loud if what Elvis did could actually be called dancing.

“I didn’t get inspired by the dancing in the Elvis films. I got inspired by Elvis as an icon,” said Laurence Lemieux. This is where you need more information. Elvis and The Man in Black is the title of a show happening at the Opera House Friday night, but its two different pieces of dance. Lemieux choreographed the dance called Looking for Elvis and James Kudelka choreographed The Man In Black.

Laurence Lemieux

“Its a program that goes together,” said Lemieux. As a package, the dances have been performed by the National Ballet and is part of the regular repertoire of Lemiuex’s Citadel and Compagnie, which operates from the Regent Park (Toronto) Ross Centre for Dance. Lemieux is the artistic director, Kudelka the resident choreographer.

How does a French Canadian dancer/choreographer come up with an artistic work based on an American pop idol? It turns out, despite the presence of a unique culture of art in the middle of a strong English culture of artistic expression, French Canadians love their Elvis.

“Elvis is really big in Quebec, still is,” said Lemieux.

“There’s a fascination with American culture too, but we’re talking when I grew up is not now. I saw all the Elvis films and that was a really normal thing and there’s a lot of impersonators in the province of Quebec. Yes, they produce their own Francophone based music, but they also have these affinities with a lot of American bands and one of them is Elvis,” said Lemieux.

She uses Elvis’s music and clips from interviews, hardly the kind of thing one would expect for a piece performed by the National Ballet.

“The National Ballet did it, but they are not ballet works, they are contemporary dance works,” said Lemieux. There’s more to it than dancing to A Little Less Conversation .

“It’s a piece about the act of performing. How do we function in a society as a performer? It’s a pretty complex thing to do and it’s very hard, everybody thinks we’re all like, full of ego, but it’s a rally difficult thing to do and it’s really hard on your life,” said Lemieux.

“We use Elvis as a kind of back drop. Elvis is an extreme case of being a performer, and having to be a performer no matter what and he lost his life over it in a sense because he got medicated, he was doing all these gigs – it happens a lot to entertainers. It doesn’t happen to contemporary dancers on the same scale, but there are the same things we feel of either failure or success, and the success is followed by failure. That’s what this piece is about.”

The show is a presentation of the Orillia Centre for Art and Culture. They’re not in the business of presenting popular, lowest common denominator art (music, dance, literary). From time to time, we need a rest from the mainstream, to exercise brain cells with art of substance, and Michael Martyn, OCAC’s general manager, thinks this show might appeal to many.

“Contemporary dance is an artform that a lot of people are not familiar with, so we wanted to find a performance that was safe, that people felt more comfortable seeing, more accessible. Kate Hilliard, who is our curator, was aware of this production and made a point of contacting Laurence and setting this up,” said Martyn.

The Man in Black

“Kate Hilliard really felt that the Orillia community would relate to the music of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, that the audience would get that and is open to it being explored in a new way.”

Lemieux thinks her piece and Kudelka’s are those kinds of works.

“There’s an ease for an audience if they’ve never seen dance because there is something relatable in the sound. Movement wise and the themes of the show, they’re really easily understandable, but at the same time they are sophisticated works of dance,” she said.

You can get tickets for the 8 p.m. performance online

(Photos Supplied)


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