Dance Me To The End on/off Love

By Alan Hustak on March 22, 2013

Dance me to the end on/off love at the Centaur until April 14 is a lugubrious, downright macabre exploration of love and pain by Granhoj Dans, a contemporary dance troupe from Denmark. The North American premiere of the show is described as a poetic meditation, an attempt to make Cohen’s words become flesh. 

From the moment director Palle Granhoj steps on stage and boldly edits one of Cohen’s poems, furiously scribbling to make the verse suit himself , he makes it clear that he is expropriating the poet’s work to make it conform to his image of himself - although anyone sitting beyond the fifth row may have had trouble reading his scrawl. 

What follows is an undeniably original but a dark and depressing autobiographical vision of what, after all, has as its core, a deliriously romantic song, a lyrical tribute to the healing and restorative power of love. The performance has the required sound of a “burning violin,” but quickly you discover the emphasis is “dancing through the panic,” without ever being “gathered safely in.”

dance_me_02.jpgPerhaps it helps to know that the show was inspired by the death of Soren Sundby a dancer with the company. Dance Me to the end on/off, grew out of a “portrait performance” titled Face2X, which the Granhoj helped create before Sundby died.  In the program notes, Granhoj tells us he set out to expand the work by duplicate his own head on stage and using it in unexpected ways. Consequently, the production makes dramatic use of heads, feet, and the human body. Some of the tableaux are powerful, especially one of a naked woman contained in a black box. Then there are skulls mounted like so many melons in a market, the acerbic imagination of I’m Your Man. Skulls are constantly being artfully arranged during the show, all the constrained movement choreographed for the most part against a pitch black pallete with only the occasional candelabra or follow spotlight for illumination. 

dance_me_01.jpgMannequin heads are used as props; dancers dance on them, arrange them in piles and toss them around. A nude writhes across the stage towards an altar of skulls. Haunting images form and dissolve into the darkness. The effect is like sitting in some Neapolitan ossuary  wallowing in grief or reveling in the the black humour of a mystical moment as Cohen’s verse washes over the audience. The visual impact of some of the sequences are admirable, you can’t help but applaud the company’s technical competence. The songs are beautifully interpreted especially by musicians Thierry Boisdon, Anne Eisensee, and  Dorte Petersen.  If the aim is to “show me slowly what I only know the limits of,”
Granhoj  partially succeeds. But ultimately, the marriage of Cohen’s music and his self- indulgent, melancholy interpretation becomes a test of endurance.  And Cohen should never have to be endured.



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