Set­ting dance to Co­hen like po­etry in mo­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON MAYES

LAST year, Win­nipeg’s Jor­den Mor­ris was asked to chore­o­graph a pas de deux to Leonard Co­hen’s soul­ful Dance Me to the End of Love for the na­tion­ally tele­vised Ge­nie Awards.

It was so well re­ceived that the Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let com­mis­sioned Mor­ris to cre­ate a longer work to songs by the leg­endary Co­hen.

The 44-yearold dance­maker, who teaches at the RWB School and cre­ated the com­pany’s hits Peter Pan and Moulin Rouge — The Bal­let, was al­ready a fan of the 77-year-old Mon­treal-born poet and singer-song­writer. Years ago, he at­tended one of Co­hen’s spir­i­tual con­certs in Mon­treal.

Still, he em­barked on an in­ten­sive Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let Cen­ten­nial Con­cert Hall May 9-12, 7:30 p.m.; May 13, 2 p.m. Tick­ets $33 to $97.50 at Tick­et­mas­ter or 956-2792 re­search quest, down­load­ing huge quan­ti­ties of Co­hen’s in­flu­en­tial mu­sic, read­ing bi­ogra­phies and get­ting his hands on 14 hours’ worth of au­dio in­ter­views with the deep-voiced singer, span­ning some 40 years. He hopes to meet Co­hen one day.

“He’s such an amaz­ing in­di­vid­ual — his ideas, his be­liefs, the way he can so elo­quently ex­press any­thing, and put a shape and tex­ture and colour onto it,” Mor­ris says. “If he’s just talk­ing about his hat, it sounds fab­u­lous.”

The full-scale Co­hen project will ul­ti­mately be about an hour long and will likely de­but in the 2013-14 sea­son, Mor­ris says. But a 20-minute ver­sion for seven dancers, The Door­way: Scenes from Leonard Co­hen, has its world pre­mière Wed­nes­day as part of RWB’S sea­son-end­ing Pure Bal­let pro­gram.

The pro­duc­tion, on un­til Mother’s Day, also fea­tures Peter Quanz’s Lu­mi­nous and Mauri­cio Wain­rot’s Carmina Bu­rana, both to recorded mu­sic.

The troupe ac­tu­ally has a his­tory with Co­hen. Back in the hip­pie era, it pre­miered Brian Mac­don­ald’s bal­let The Shin­ing Peo­ple of Leonard Co­hen. Still, don’t hunt for the poet in the au­di­ence next week. He was in­vited, but is too busy to at­tend.

The Door­way con­sists of five re­la­tion­ship-themed vi­gnettes set to four songs and a record­ing of Co­hen recit­ing the poem Since You’ve Asked. Each vi­gnette is pre­ceded by a rel­e­vant au­dio clip of Co­hen.

“What I’m try­ing to do is tie him to the mu­sic, and then make a picture,” Mor­ris says.

Two of the best-known songs will be per­formed live. The place­ment of the mu­si­cians is still be­ing worked out, but Mor­ris hopes they’ll be in close prox­im­ity to the dancers.

Bri­tish Columbia-born singer­song­writer Al­li­son Crowe will play the pi­ano and sing Hal­lelu­jah, chore­ographed as a fe­male solo.

Win­nipeg duo Keith and Renée will per­form Bird on a Wire. The bal­let also in­cludes Sis­ters of Mercy as recorded by singer-song­writer Cris Wil­liamson and The Let­ters sung by Co­hen and Jen­nifer Warnes.

Mor­ris doesn’t have much ex­pe­ri­ence chore­ograph­ing to lyrics, but is very aware of the pit­fall of match­ing move­ment too ex­actly to the words. It’s a trap some au­di­ence mem­bers felt chore­og­ra­pher James Kudelka fell into with the Johnny Cash-scored bal­let The Man in Black, per­formed here last fall by the Na­tional Bal­let of Canada.

“I got a lot of com­ments (af­ter the Cash bal­let) say­ing, ‘God, please don’t be that lit­eral with Leonard Co­hen,’” Mor­ris says. “It al­most gets pedan­tic for the au­di­ence. … You want to use Co­hen’s words as the can­vas. The move­ment is the paint.”

The ti­tle The Door­way, he says, re­flects Co­hen’s al­most priestly pas­sage through the por­tal to the stage.

“He talks a lot about the door­way he goes through be­fore he per­forms. It’s some­thing very sa­cred and spe­cial to him.”

It might seem sur­pris­ing that Dance Me to the End of Love doesn’t ap­pear in The Door­way, but it’s be­cause Mor­ris en­vi­sions it as a num­ber for many dancers in the hour-long ver­sion, to be ti­tled The Cham­ber.

“I want it to be a huge group sec­tion for, like, six cou­ples,” he says. “I’m kind of sav­ing that — and things like Fa­mous Blue Rain­coat and Tower of Song.”

TIM FEN­NELL PHOTO

Jo-ann Sundermeier and Yo­suke Mino in The Door­way: Scenes From Leonard Co­hen.

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