Mainline Theater is not your ordinary space - just a small door with an even smaller sign, tucked away between a grocery store and a deli - so only those in the know make their way to see L'Embarquement in downtown Montreal. Catering to a crowd of friends, family and arts-scene regulars, this hideaway is the perfect environment for an intimate evening with Pour Corps et Lumière.

Tonight, the company of young dancers, in collaboration with spoken word artist Ian Ferrier, present their new piece L’Embarquement as the main attraction of an evening dedicated to supporting their upcoming North American tour. The multidisciplinary soirée includes a photo exhibit by Michael Kovacs and Stephanie Morin-Robert (the choreographer), capturing moments from previous shows and rehearsals, and highlighting the company’s interesting exploration with light. A film shot from Pour Corps et Lumière's residency in the Bay of Fundy is projected, giving insight into the creative process behind their new piece. The artists and audience mingle before the show, breaking the usual separation between those on stage and off. Morin-Robert introduces the piece, inviting the audience to settle into the sofa-like seats surrounding three sides of the dance floor. Her opening words make it obvious that this will be a very physical creation, stemming from movement much more than from disembodied thought.

In utter darkness, Ferrier lures us into the piece with a story. Half illuminated, half in shadow, a single light just inches above his head, he sits on a low table and takes us back in time with a love story from his youth. His words come out in wispy breaths and his voice sounds fittingly innocent. As he starts to drag on, he folds one of his notes into a paper boat, and ties up his story with a metaphor on life, love and sailing. At this, the five female dancers emerge and he falls into a dark corner to accompany them with soft words and music.

The five women all give off very different personalities, some strong and solid as rock, others flowing and giving like water. Standing in a line, they begin to sway, leading with their heads in fluid back and forth motion. The influence of the tide and shore is obvious from the start. The pace is set, slow and drawling, and stays this way throughout, unchanging like the sea. The most delicate of the dancers falls out of timing with the others and breaks forward from the line to explore on her own. Her feet stay planted in a corner downstage, but her body moves with increasing ferocity. Her core is fully engaged, but the movement cuts short in her arms as they stay a bit too safe and close to her body. We can’t know if it’s intentional because she is nevertheless completely captivating.

The lighting plays a key role, highlighting soloists and creating shadows that frame each movement, as if happening in a vacuum. When four dancers come together on the low table, the single light above them links them as if they were one, creating a pyramid of light that encapsulates their bodies. Each time it catches one dancer’s flaming red hair throughout the piece, the color adds a sensual dimension. The choreography is flowing, blending repetitive rolling motions as the women dance together, with sharper, stomier instances when they dance alone.

Inevitably, water is integrated into the performance. A dancer places a clear plastic bin in front of her while the others watch, waiting. She removes her shoes and steps inside, and within moments the others are running to fill it. Her feet swimming, she moves softly. As the light focuses on the water, exaggerating the size of her feet, her splashing becomes exaggerated as well, the water overflowing onto the floor. She is joined by another dancer and, with their bodies and feet making waves, the floor is soon soaked. The sound of water and the convoluted, looping dance hypnotize the audience – a trance that is only broken when the five women reunite in their original line and toe the very edges of the floor, staring deep into and beyond the many eyes that are glued to them.

Throughout the performance, a few irks kept pulling me to the surface of the deep mood Pour Corps et Lumière was trying to establish. The light music was well chosen, but the spoken word could be disruptive. Ferrier’s particularly boyish voice would sometimes catch the ear on funny words, making me stop and wonder at one point, “hang on, what does this have to do with dragons?” The dancers lacked synchronicity and were too often hesitant. The choreography was inventive and honestly beautiful, but I kept wishing it were being performed by more mature dancers. A pet peeve of mine is a dancer whose body does not reflect the art they are engaged in – were these bodies seen out of context I’m not sure they would be easily recognizable as instruments of dance. As with most pieces that don’t quite hit the mark, a lot of rehearsal could take this work a long way as the basic vein of interest is already clearly there. All in all, the process and not the performance of L’Embarquement is its true high point.