National Theatre, Taipei
October 12, 2019
Montreal choreographer and artistic director of DLD (Daniel Léveillé Danse) Frédérick Gravel’s Some Hope for the Bastards transports us to a melancholic party, a dark celebration. Of precisely what is up to the viewer, although much of the work digs into what it is to be human.
It opens with the nine dancers spread around the stage, some clutching cans of beer, most looking empty-eyed, helpless, watching us watching them, waiting for something, anything.
Slowly, all stiff-bodied, they shift their stance. Slowly they move to a line of chairs across the front of the stage. It takes around ten minutes and you start to wonder where things are going, if anywhere. As it happens, it’s heading towards a group portrait, one laden with awkwardness as the dancers stare at the audience. But will they ever really wake up? Fortunately for us, the answer is yes. And how!
But before that, Gravel interrupts proceedings to chat to the audience, to thank them for coming and for ‘taking a risk’. And if you get to the point where you’ve seen enough, you can leave, he adds. It’s OK. Then he reveals there are actually two beginnings and soon we will see the second one. Apparently, he had two and couldn’t decide which to go with, so we get to see both and choose for ourselves.
That second opening is to a recording of the introductory chorus of Bach’s St. John Passion. Again, the dancers shift, slowly at first before the gentle pelvic thrusts become more forceful, shifting into the chest before taking over the whole body. It’s like being a fly on the wall at an underground party where everyone is in a trance.
When the Bach morphs into live Indie rock from the on-stage band, we are really off. The work continues to be about pulse and stubborn repetition, both in the beat of the music and the choreography. That could have made it as dull as dishwater but it’s quite the opposite.
Structure slowly starts to emerge. The ensemble, in a mix of jeans and casual tops or more formal wear are completely immersed in the intensity of the dance, which at times is physically quite exhausting. The choreography is intensely precise. The unison sections with their edgy contemporary dance are relentless, especially the throbbing final few moments, which are quite worth waiting for.
Dancers disappear and reappear almost unnoticed. When on stage, no-one may be yelling ‘look at me’, but they all makes you want to look at them. All the time, even in the ensemble unison sections, Gravel leaves enough space for each dancer to put their individual mark on the piece.
Although largely isolated individuals, connections between dancers start to be seen, none more so in a scene of four duets of every possible male-female combination. That awkwardness of the opening returns. “Nobody trusts me, nobody holds me,” we hear in the lyrics. Although the dancers get close, right to the edge of intimacy, sure enough there is a distance, a coolness, between them, even in the super pairing of two of the men and its dance of innovative supports and leanings.
A gorgeous solo by one of the women that’s full of subtle sculptures in space comes just after midway. Danced to a song to solo guitar performed by Gravel, it cools things for a while before the thudding and pulsing returns and the dancers surrender themselves to the power of the music in a thrilling finale.
It was a magnificent ninety minutes of music and dance. The three-piece band of Gravel, Jean-Luc Huet and Robert Kuster are terrific but what really lingered in the memory was the endurance and stamina of the dancing ensemble. Powerhouse dance indeed.