Louise Lecavalier is an iconic appearance: a frêle white muscular woman, with waving blond manes, capable of body movements close to the acrobatic. Famous for duets, her androgynous appearance and physical power contributed to a new interpretation of conventional male-female relationships. Well-known for her barrel jump, she stunned audiences with her ability to lift her male dance partners, as she demonstrated when she accompanied David Bowie in his memorable Sound and Vision Tour in 1990. The Canadian dancer matured her style in the eighties, joining La La La Human Steps in 1981. Led by Édouard Lock, the company became renowned for their performance-art style, emphasizing presence, endurance, risk, high speed and gestural detail.
La La La Human Steps flaunts an urban style, fired by stop-start movements and high-energy performance. Lecavalier stayed with the company for almost twenty years, becoming Lock’s muse, together strongly impacting the international dance scene. Lock/Lecavalier introduced aspects of sport, rock and cinema in dance, leading to a choreographic language that channels expression and sensuality.
Frédérique Bergholtz, director of If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part Of Your Revolution, spoke with her just after dancing two performance pieces at Amsterdam’s Julidans festival: a new piece by British choreographer Nigel Charnock (Children, 2009) and a performance composed from fragments of earlier choreographies from Édouard Lock/La La La Human Steps, with music by Iggy Pop (A Few Minutes of Lock, 2009).
Frédérique Bergholtz: I would like you to think about how you relate eroticism to the city. What comes to mind?
Louise Lecavalier: For years I thought: eroticism is the city. Eroticism had to do with buildings and lights. For me that was an attraction for many years. But over time I’m changing… Before, if you would talk to me about the beautiful landscape, about country life – for me, the eroticism of that would be absent, totally. Now I see nature also in an erotic way. But before it was really…
Frédérique: the city.
Frédérique: And which cities especially do you associate with eroticism?
Louise: I don’t know. It’s the warmth, some energy, the people… I don’t know why… because I’ve been there many times at some point in my life…
Frédérique: Does it have to do with the – I admit cliché – idea of the South, with flirting?
Louise: No, not at all. It’s the city itself. There is a pulse in the city that’s intense. One thing I find erotic is speed: Rome is nervous, fast.
Frédérique: And if you think about Montreal, your own home base, do ideas or experiences of eroticism come up when you think about that public space?
Louise: Not really. But I know from friends, especially gay friends who visit Montreal, that they find the city very permissive and eclectic. Wild. According to them Montreal is a very erotic city.
Frédérique: Is it a city where one can feel present?
Louise: Yes, I think so. But for me, because I know it so well and maybe now that I have children, I deal with other aspects of the city, it’s different. When I was younger, I probably would’ve said it’s a sexy city. And I think it is in fact.
Frédérique: I came across a quote I liked by Michel Foucault, the philosopher, which I would like to read to you. Don’t be afraid, I won’ t make this conversation too intellectual or abstract – but I think it can help us circumvent ‘eroticism’ as a too all-encompassing word, like ‘art’, ‘life’, you know.
Frédérique: He says: ‘Sexuality is part of our behavior. It is part of our world freedom. Sexuality is something that we ourselves create. It is our own creation, and much more than a discovery of a secret side of our desire. We have to understand that with our desires go new forms of relationships, new forms of love, new forms of creation.’
What strikes me in this quote, and what I want to ‘throw at you’ is his mentioning that with our desires go new forms of relationships. Could you think of forms of relationships that you have engaged in, that you would qualify as ‘new’ , that you would identify as surpassing the conventions of what you have learned of relationships; with your mother, your father, or your lover – Relationships that you were, or are, actively involved in creating?
Frédérique: Give it a try.
Louise: Okay…, prior to working with La La La and Édouard, I was dancing in other, more traditional dance companies; traditional in their choreographies, but also when it comes to the behavior in the group. It was a company with leaders, schedules, the whole package. I left it without knowing what would be next. But what I did know was that there was something that didn’t suit me in this way of working, I did not know myself so much yet. But I was craving other kinds of relationships. I didn’t want to be looked at only as a woman dancer, but as a human being first, especially in the studio. Outside of the studio, I had a social life and didn’t need to clarify my position so much. But in the studio and especially in the dance world, which is so physical, where you’re in tight suits all the time – a minimal amount of clothing really – I thought: ‘I don’t want to position myself towards the male dancers like ‘I’m a woman and you’re a man and we’re very different and there could be attraction.’ I really didn’t want to depart from that particular premise, which I had seen a lot in the dance world. This over-sexual thing about dance was not appealing to me at all. I was searching for a form of dance that would connect to the real world, and not just be located in the dance scene. This crazy bubble apart from all else. And also not simply dance according to old male-female stereotypes.
Frédérique: And was there space for this in the company of La La La Human Steps?
Louise: In a way it comes down to what you talked about; that by desire you create new kinds of relationships. Yes with La La La, we developed the work, the dance, that I craved and it led to fantastic relationships. Also with the men. In fact, especially with the men. Édouard worked on a lot of duets for man and woman at the time. It looked quite erotic, but it was not the premise of the choreography. We totally invested in creating movement, exploring on an almost pure physical level. And neutral… Almost neutral. (laughs).
Frédérique: Is it a cliché to think that if you have a very close working relationship with someone, that when you rehearse for a duet, an attraction might develop?
Louise: At first thought I could say it happens a lot, but if I think about it some more, I think it doesn’t happen any more than in any other working situation. When you dedicate yourself to something, you are not trying to be sexy whether you are in leotards or in a business suit. People are sexy or attractive when they don’t try to be. We can easily associate dance with eroticism, but in fact when you deal with it everyday, eroticism and sex are no more present than in any other working environment.
Frédérique: Could you then describe what is ‘attractive’ for you? Against the background of my earlier question: what are your thoughts on actively creating relationships?
Louise: Paradoxically, I finally did have a relationship with one partner I was dancing with. And it really surprised me that we could get attracted to each other because what we were doing was so raw and animal, instinctive, you know… I was young and I thought attraction was something from the mind rather than physical. I was wrong. It is much more complex and complicated than that.
In that period I lived something I really wanted. I found a relationship and from the start I knew it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business, and just wanted to keep it private.
Frédérique: So you wouldn’t define yourselves as a couple?
Louise: Oui, c’est ça, c’est ça.. I hated how people around me named or framed things. I wanted to protect our relationship from that. I think with my partner, Marc Béland, people liked the chemistry of our dancing on stage. But around us, people had no idea that we were together, no idea. In a touring context, where there is a close proximity between people, it was essential for me not to make this public.
Frédérique: How did you manage to protect it?
Louise: By not talking to people about it, by not becoming too dependent on each other in the day-to-day life.
Frédérique: And could Marc also go with that?
Louise: It was maybe harder for him. But I think in the end, years later (and we’re still friends), he saw the privilege of that relationship. Untouchable.
Frédérique: How long did it last?
Louise: About five years.
Frédérique: You already hinted at it, but there is this last sentence in the quote, where Foucault says: ‘Sex is not a fatality; it’s a possibility for creative life. It’s not enough to affirm that we are gay, but we must also create a gay life.’ If I rephrase it and would state ‘It’s not enough to affirm that we are women, but also that we must create a womanly, feminine life’. Could you give an example, or an ‘operation’ if you want, that you consider contributing to articulating a feminine life?
Louise: I feel good in how I’ve lived my life as a woman, that I’ve had children. I’m not so much into feminist discourse… but maybe in feminist dancing.
Frédérique: How have you and your dance been of importance in that respect?
Louise: I just looked for my own path for being, becoming a woman who would be me. I just did it my way, with dance. I don’t want to say this should be the way.
I think it was not possible for me to connect to an already existing model of woman, to the tough girl, the boyish, the intellectual, the mother, the sexy… Although I was very shy and insecure, I was still strong enough not to take on something that I didn’t feel was my way of doing things, or of loving, or of being sexual. So when I joined La La La, there was that time, with Édouard and the dancers, the freedom and the space to realize the dance I hoped for. These people were craving for something too. This context allowed me to trace my own path. The right people at the right time. I could exist in all the colors I wanted, from subtle to loud and reverse and in between. I think maybe that’s how some people recognize themselves in my dancing. They recognize something that doesn’t need words but is imprinted in the physical act of dancing. Just a way of thinking, living as a woman.
I could exist in all the colors I wanted, from subtle to loud and reverse and in between
Frédérique: In your profession you are object and subject at the same time (and in fact we probably all are to a certain extent), but what is different is that with you, this subject/object state is explicitly located in the body. Are there moments that you feel your body not immediately connected to – the functioning or the malfunctioning of – your practice? In other words, are there moments, and what are these moments, that you have a conscious awareness of your body beyond either training or performing, and that produces an experience?
Louise: Of course there are, it is not only my trained, athletic body that gives me information about life. I remember when I was a young dancer, there was this idea that if you don’t work for a couple of weeks, even a couple of days, you’re not a dancer anymore. But I don’t agree, even though I like to train a lot and keep in very good shape. I did – and do – appreciate periods of time where I dance less. It’s a great opportunity to feel your body outside of the dance body, or the athletic body. When I was pregnant, I liked that I was able to live the experience of a different body.
Frédérique: Can you describe the sensation of your body ‘out of duty’?
Louise: It’s OK, nice. I’m not just an athlete! I am, I think, an artist. And the artist is the one who’s searching to understand the world and for this, my body needs to be flexible and able to feel different things. I’m not at all the perfect, trained body that only feels ‘puissance’, strength. It’s incredible how fast – with a few days, a week – of dancing less I feel different, and it is so important because I am not only an athlete pushing the measure with a chronometer; I am dealing with an art form. I am trying to discover more about my human side, even if I use a lot the animal inside me to get there. The animal never lies… it hunts when it needs to, it rests also when it needs to. When for some periods of time I don’t work so much in the studio, when I’m not tired from hours of working physically, I feel different, I walk differently, I experience the wind on my body in a different way… and it is a precious experience to have for creating dance. Every time I feel something new, it gives me information that I use in creating dance and that I need in my research with the choreographer. The beauty of a dance doesn’t come solely from knowledge of the muscles. It may sound strange, but I don’t have much admiration for muscular bodies. What I like is trying to feel how somebody else feels. When I work for a choreographer, I have to love how they move. Édouard… I loved how he moved. I worked for Tedd Robinson; I was intrigued. ‘How come he’s moving like he does? What is it to live in this different body, and mind?’
Frédérique: You observing people, reminds me of an important aspect of modern dance: the introduction of movements based on daily, mundane gestures.
And I guess this happened to broaden the choreographic repertoire, but also to infuse (perhaps even confuse) classic dance with the unadulterated. In your dance, you also integrate movements that one can relate to daily life, but it’s always transmitted through a trained, skilled grammar: the mastery of the body is the mighty ‘signature’ of your dance vocabulary. What would you describe as the attractive, say erotic, elements in chance and improvisation on the one hand, and technique and mastery on the other?
Louise: Both appeal to me, attract me, but I don’t see eroticism locked in either. When a choreography is very rehearsed and set, you have to lose it in some way, or reinvent it to make it interesting – at least for yourself. The best performances are the reinvented ones, where you have almost total control but not quite. But that’s not something you manage to do all the time. There’s no guarantee that you will find an even slightly new approach to a show every night, although a fixed choreography does not restrain you to find this; on the contrary it can give you more freedom.
A show is a mix of many ingredients and its impact doesn’t rely only on the technique of the performers. Sometimes the technique is all great but the show will not be magical. Improvisation has its ups and downs too. Both are exciting because both are difficult to perform. It really depends on skill and preference. I have done more improvisation since I left La La La. Improvisation is a tool to find the material, however on stage things are pretty set. Most of my experience has been to perform fixed and very challenging choreographies, for instance those by Édouard with La La La and it was very thrilling, exciting and scary. The nature of that work suited me, kept me on the edge and I think it is a sexy way to live.
Frédérique: So training is important?
Louise: Mais oui. Being a gifted pretty girl or boy wouldn’t be enough. Training forces me to confront myself everyday, gives me practice at either pushing my limits or just checking them. Training is an organized way to warm up and to allow me to keep myself in the best of shape – rehearsing creating and performing are not enough – so that on stage I can push myself further than my comfort zone, and to survive the physical demand of the performance and be able to do more than one show.
I think it is tempting to like performers who put themselves on the edge, who take some risks, it makes them sexy because they are unpredictable. Training allows you to do that more than just once.
Frédérique: If you look at the vocabulary that you have developed since the ’80s, it reminds me of what, in a very shallow, remote way, is still produced by people like Madonna – they must have watched your work.
Frédérique: Maybe consciously, but for sure unconsciously. What are your thoughts when you see clips or stage performances by Madonna?
Louise: For me it’s very flat. It’s the slapstick of eroticism.
Louise: It’s funny. For me, it’s not sexy at all. They’re making a joke of it. I guess they’re aware of it, I hope they are…
Frédérique: I don’t think so…
Louise: (laughs) But that’s what it looks like!
Frédérique: But it’s impressive how dominant this language has become. I mean, it’s so immensely successful. I mentioned Madonna as the most famous example, but there are so, so many others, and it’s all the same.
Louise: And I’m surprised it still works…
Frédérique: We are very bored now… Is there someone, either a dancer, choreographer, maybe a musician, in the contemporary scene that is developing a language you’re thrilled about?
Louise: Language is rare, choreographic language I mean. I saw Wayne McGregor and really liked his work. And I love William Forsythe. And also as dancers and performers, Kô Murobushi, and Israel Galvan.
Frédérique: Yes, that I can really see.
Louise: And I also like Kylián but unfortunately it’s been years since I’ve seen his work live on stage.
Frédérique: Your performances require a lot of training and an incredible dedication in order to maintain and improve your technique. How do you relax?
Louise: I read, read, read and watch movies. And hang out with the kids. And swim a little. And have drinks and good food with friends like most people.
Frédérique: So it’s not difficult for you to relax.
Louise: No. I manage to relax… although I don’t become a completely different person.
Frédérique: On stage you appear as an extremely strong, almost superhuman being that dares to be explicitly erotic. In real life you show your shyness, and you also call yourself shy. What can you say about eroticism and expression on the one hand, and eroticism and introversion on the other?
Louise: Explicitly erotic? I am not sure of that at all… Eroticism has something of hiding and showing. It’s both. It shouldn’t be associated with solely showing off, nor with withdrawal: it’s like a wave.
It is something that we cannot completely define, because then it doesn’t surprise you… But it’s not contradictory for me to be extroverted and shy at the same time. I think we’re more than one thing, nobody is just shy or just extroverted. I think eroticism is something very fragile, it has to do with all the small things that are not so in your face.
Frédérique: How do you think about eroticism and ageing? What has changed in your experience of eroticism, of sexuality?
Louise: Better… the same… worse. It’s honestly difficult to answer this one. I can’t compare, and it’s not good to compare anyway… I cannot be so sure that memory doesn’t fool me, I’ll give you one answer one day, and a different the next, or at different periods of time depending on how I feel. I guess I could say it is similar… it must mean that either I didn’t grow up or… not enough.
Frédérique: Do you have the feeling your attraction is growing?
Louise: I can recognize it better now.
Younger I still had burdens like ‘Oh I can’t be attracted to somebody I work with’ – somebody that I see every day, who I sweat over every day, who smells my stinky sweaty dance clothes can’t possibly be attracted to me. I had this idea. But with time, with experience I know many things are possible. So in a way it’s more open now. More profound.
Frédérique: Do you feel the need to be looked at, to be witnessed? In the streets for instance.
Louise: No, no, no. No, not at all.
Frédérique: No? Don’t you find it, I mean…
Louise: Oh, looked at as a woman?
Louise: Not as an artist that people would recognize…?
Frédérique: No. I don’t mean recognized, but noticed.
Louise: Okay, okay. Now I understand. Well, when it happens it’s always nice. But it doesn’t happen so often. As I told you, I like to observe people, so if I catch someone observing me then it’s strange: ‘Hey, I’m the observer!’
Frédérique: But it does give a kick, no?
Louise: If somebody looks at you?
Louise: Yes. If somebody riding his bike turns his head around and smiles, or anything… Sometimes it’s minimal but it’s very nice and it should happen more.
Frédérique: Yeah, I think so too.
Louise: And there is no big deal about it, it doesn’t mean much, it’s just nice.
Frédérique: And by the way I love your hair. It’s so nice!
Louise: Oh, thank you!
Frédérique: I mention it because I know it is recent and it changes you immensely, very sexy.
Louise: Yeah yeah yeah, four weeks ago I had the cut. It’s super, no?
Frédérique: Yes, fantastic, I think it’s a drastic but really good choice. (laughs)
Louise: Oh, I’m happy. I felt it was good right at the moment they cut it, it was like, perfect…
Frédérique: Perfect, yeah.