Harbourfront Centre is celebrating its return to live, in-person dance performance with the long-awaited Toronto debut of one of the hottest troupes on the international touring circuit, Israel’s L-E-V.
The company, co-founded/directed in 2013 by choreographer Sharon Eyal and her partner in art and life, Gai Behar, will present the Canadian premiere of “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart.” It’s the final instalment in a trilogy of roughly hour-long works exploring the trials and tribulations of love.
Given all the pandemic uncertainty of ever-changing international travel restrictions and theatre capacity limits it’s a wonder Nathalie Bonjour, Harbourfront Centre’s director for performing arts, has been able to bring L-E-V to Toronto.
“It’s been a very complicated process,” Bonjour quietly understates.
Tours are planned and booked several years in advance. Bonjour had originally programmed L-E-V for April 2020 as part of Harbourfront Centre’s “Torque” series of cutting-edge international contemporary dance. In 2018, she travelled to the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland to see the second part of the trilogy, “Love Chapter 2.” It was the work Bonjour had planned to present in Toronto. Then the pandemic froze international touring. By the time it began to pick up again, L-E-V had moved on to “Chapter 3”
“In a way,” says Bonjour, “I am happy it’s worked out this way. Chapter 3 offers a sense of closure, which is perfect as we finally begin to emerge from this pandemic.”
According to Eyal, it is not necessary to have seen the preceding parts to appreciate the third. “You can see just one, or see them all. It makes no difference. Each stands alone.”
Despite its rather forbidding title, “Chapter 3” is in fact a thoroughly mesmerizing and approachable work that in its scaled-down touring format features a maximum of seven dancers in hand-painted faux body-art unitards with blood-red heart motifs on every chest. These alluring costumes are by Christian Dior Couture’s Maria Grazia Chiuri.
The world premiere in Germany in 2019 featured nine dancers. It was recently performed by a cast of six at its North American premiere in New York City; the gender mix can also vary.
“The number of dancers often changes,” says Eyal. “The work can adapt to a lot of different spaces. As for gender, for me this is not so important. The work is about people.”
With a varied and appealing score by frequent Eyal musical collaborator Ori Lichtik that includes Latin and African rhythms, almost folksy melodies and edgy choral passages, “Chapter 3” is a work of pure dance, stripped of all the tiresome pretensions of so much Western European contemporary dance. In fact, Eyal does not even think of what she does as contemporary dance.
“Perhaps it’s the new neo-classical dance,” says Eyal, in reference to one of her choreographic idols, the late, great master George Balanchine.
“Chapter 3” quickly builds a collective momentum that is wonderfully sustained throughout as the dancers sink into deep piles or open their arms as if embracing the universe. They prance with feet arched high or swivel their hips and lunge their shoulders vogueishly. The movement is precise, down to the last detail and, not surprisingly, is redolent of Gaga, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, Eyal’s former artistic director at Isreal’s Batsheva Dance Company, which strives to connect inner emotional impulse to outer physical movement as authentically as possible.
Eyal is no stranger to Canada; nor is her company. As a standout dancer in Batsheva, where she also cut her teeth as a choreographer, Eyal performed in several of its Canadian tours. L-E-V — the company’s whimsical name plays on the Hebrew word for heart — first visited Canada in 2014 and then annually from 2016 to 2018. It maybe helps that the troupe’s touring agent is Montreal’s Menno Plukker.
The Canadian connection goes deeper. “OCD Love,” the first part of Eyal’s trilogy, was incubated during a creative residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta. One of L-E-V’s core contingent of male dancers, Darren Devaney, is Edmonton-born and danced for several seasons with Ballet British Columbia before leaving for Tel Aviv.
“I feel close to Canada,” says Eyal, although she is unable to be with the company in Toronto. “But,” she adds, “my heart will be dancing there.”
“Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart,” Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.; March 3 and 5. harbourfrontcentre.com.
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