2 March 2023
Review: Dance Me, a Leonard Cohen retrospective through dance, Sadler’s Wells Theatre
by An Arachnid Spector
The songs of Leonard Cohen returned to stage with Ballets Jazz Montreal hosting 90 minutes of modern dance to a selection of some of the Master’s greatest hits. Dance Me blends modern ballet to songs from the long discography of Cohen’s works.
Known more as a writer of lyrical poetry than dance hits, Leonard Cohen is not the most obvious choice of backdrop for a ballet but nonetheless his famous song, Dance Me To The End Of Love lends itself nicely to the name of the show. Dance Me opens not with song, or dance, but the written lyrics of the eponymous song. This leads into the beginning of the dance, choreographed to allow space for each of the performers and also for Cohen’s lyrics. The modern dance group use multimedia to showcase their performance. Projected raindrops fall onto the famous blue raincoat, light playfully dances with the company, and Cohen’s trilby hatted silhouette is a recurring theme.
Before he passed away Cohen had a hand in the earliest designs of the show, helping to pick songs and providing personal recordings to incorporate. And his presence is felt throughout, key passages and lines of song are accentuated by the dance, almost expounding on the song’s themes. Like Cohen’s songs, the performance feels intimate, despite the scale of a packed Sadler’s Wells. We have an experience that is as much funny as it is romantic, dramatic, and captivating. Where maybe the performance missteps is that while the dance rises with tension, it perhaps does not reach any crescendo of awe-inspiring performance. But perhaps this is a symptom of Cohen’s music, that ruminates and ponders, avoiding great clashes to instead delicately back away when the going gets too hot.
Cohen was most of all a ladies man and it is in your face obvious that this show would have to have a Valentines Day special final show; ballet and Leonard Cohen, enough to woo any old grump. The show’s pace allows it to quickly jump from the different eras and styles Cohen covered through his long career. Opening with gets us into a breathy groove. Midway we pause for a sung performance of So Long, Marianne that perhaps does not work as well as it could have. It closes with, of course, a performance of Hallelujah, in the John Cale style, and obvious crowd pleaser to finish with and not unappreciated.
Whilst not at the cutting edge of ballet or significant enough to be added to the chronology of Cohen’s work Dance Me is a faithful homage to the man’s life and work. More suited to fans of his work than to the most devoted of ballet fans, it was an enjoyable evening that did not bore or offend. Its appeal is that of Cohen’s music, that at this point seems eternally relevant to any human drawn to the themes of love and song, and the emotions that they draw us to.