There is a hum of excitement that surrounds Louise Lecavalier's name that you only really get with celebrity A-listers. Given that she has been performing since the 1980s, and has worked with people like David Bowie, it seems like her celebrity status is justified. Until last night however, I had only experienced her work through grainy VHS tapes, and wasn't quite sure what to expect. Her first self-choreographed work So Blue managed to both fulfil my vague ideas about what might happen and also completely confound them, all in one ecstatic hour.

Louise Lecavalier © Ursula Kaufmann | Southbank Centre
Louise Lecavalier
© Ursula Kaufmann | Southbank Centre

The work opens with Lecavalier alone on stage, skitting across the space with jerking arms and legs moving all at once. The image that comes to mind is a Saturday night brawler, taking on everyone and just about to fall over. Even while looking out of control, it's clear to see Lecavalier is utterly dexterous, challenging her body to move in several combinations at once. The work is semi-improvised, giving us the opportunity to see her being surprised by new discoveries her body makes. While there is a lot of repetition, it's urgent and frantic: Lecavalier is not one to indulge too much in slow and gooey movement. It's exhilarating to watch, albeit slightly exhausting to keep up with.

When she decides to slow the pace, she does it on her own terms, by holding a headstand for minutes on end. Her reputation as a physical and strong dancer is clearly still being upheld. This headstand is impressive as it is hypnotic; the longer she stays, the more she simply belongs that way up, and her upturned and undulating legs become her whole person.

The structure of the work is linked to the music that starts and stops in waves of insistent drum beats that drive Lecavalier on in her convulsive journey, contrasted with quieter songs that provide a rest from all the intensity. As with the movement, the structure is both straightforward and unexpected; from the programme notes I was told there was another performer, but 40 minutes in the work was still a solo and I began to think maybe the name in the programme was just a talented sound technician. In a bold move away from performance tropes and standard form, Lecavalier brings on a duet partner in the last third of the piece, only for him to go off for another chunk before the end.

Louise Lecavalier and Frédéric Tavernini © André Cornellier | Southbank Centre
Louise Lecavalier and Frédéric Tavernini
© André Cornellier | Southbank Centre

The dancer Frederic Tavernini is a gorgeously sinuous mover, contrasting Lecavalier's angular, frenetic presence with a stillness that he holds even in movement. The pair dance separately and together in scrappy, unpredictable contact work that sees Lecavalier push and pull Tavernini with a demanding quality that suggests it is really all about her. Due to the lateness of arrival perhaps, Tavernini did look on occasion like an accessory to be used when needed. I would have liked to see more of the duet work as the bodies complement and contrast each other perfectly. Ultimately though, this piece is really a personal exploration for Lecavalier. And I think she has earned it – she is truly thrilling to watch. 

****1