Modern dance has enjoyed a lot of nakedness in the past 50 years, but what the bared flesh means has fluctuated wildly from decade to decade and piece to piece. It has signified the body beautiful, the vulnerability of an Adam and Eve desperate for their fig leaves, humanity’s dumpiness, or merely the convenience of forgoing costumes. But whatever the connotation, the impact of nakedness diminishes with use: Eve only fell once.
So this time the veteran Québécois choreographer Daniel Léveillé put his dancers in underwear. And yet they still seemed elementally stripped. Like a Rodin figure — with its heft, its turbulent flesh, its enormous hands and feet — the 70-minute Solitudes Solo testified to the rough, weighty fact of being. It explored the expressive possibilities of feet of clay.
The movement in these eight consecutive solos to Bach’s lonely, strenuous violin sonatas was arduous: an Olympic-style long jump without the running start or a leg suspended in the air for many counts. But the dancers expended more force than even these difficult moves required. The riveting Justin Gionet seemed to want to bore a hole in the floor with his thunderous landings from sudden jumps and leaps. The enigmatic Matthieu Campeau twisted his trunk like an ancient wind-blasted tree in a dramatic wind-up for a rather modest turn.
Léveillé resists dance’s conventional aspirations of lightness and smoothness. He cuts the threads between steps, so the dancerly tools of momentum and dynamic shading cannot be used. His gamble is that, stripped of the codes of dancerliness and reduced to only a few cherished moves, the soloist will resemble no one else and be more interesting for it.
Solitudes Solo occasionally lapsed from this strict faith to resort to recognisable signs: flared bharata natyam hands, undulating swan arms and fisticuffs. The work could lose a solo or two to underscore each performer’s stark individuality but most of the time it seemed to reinvent dance and dancer as we watched. It reminded me of young children eating: they are so slow. They treat chewing with the same respect as tasting and allow both to inspire bouts of dreaminess, as if they do not realise there will be a million more meals to come.