Louis Laberge-Coté -- the art of being many things at once


In a way, the first thing Louis Laberge-Coté does in his solo, The art of degeneration, refers to blurred
lines, which makes me smile. This was what I had just been considering on my way to
rehearsal. I was reading Louis' email responses to some questions I sent him and wrote a
note for me to think about: duality and blurring of lines between the choreographer and
dancer - an ongoing and personal question -- and between the destruction dance
can cause the dancer and its simultaneous power to heal that destruction.


Over twenty years ago I started attending the School of Toronto Dance Theatre Professional
Program and Louis was my class mate. Those days were full of the wreckage of angst and
the utter joy that dance, and training to become a professional dancer, can bring. Less than
a year later, I had been dismissed from the school for my inability to mitigate the angst and
joy. I obviously found my own way through the rejection, but I marvelled at others' abilities to ride
that paradox through to the end of the program.


Louis was one of those I admired. He not only survived, but thrived with a magnificent
performing career and a stream of creations that have been clever, heart-ful and
captivating.


****
LUCY: Perhaps this is the rose-tinted glass of nostalgia, but I recall you and I being the
most tortured souls of our class at STDT, at least in first year. How did you transcend that?


LOUIS: While the training was an opportunity for me to indulge in several self-destructive
patterns, it also provided me with a creative and expressive outlet through which I truly
experienced pleasure, playfulness, connection and passion on a daily basis. I believe these
sheer feelings of rapture, sensuality, and intensity were enough to carry me forward. As I
aged, I eventually learned more about myself and managed to work through a fair portion
of my negative patterning. Dance has followed me all along in this process, and I am
incredibly grateful for its tremendous impact on my life.
****
And now I get to watch a rehearsal run of his new, and possibly last, solo "The art of
degeneration".


It begins with a blurring of boundaries. Two distinct things happening simultaneously, and
bleeding profusely into one another.


Louis Laberge-Coté photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


Louis possesses an innate ability to be completely candid and absolutely calculating
in his performance. He holds nothing back but at the same time, you don't feel you
are watching a confessional one-man-show. This has been cleverly honed and
sculpted, with room for spontaneity, surprise and even failure.


****
LUCY: How have you changed as a performer over the years?


LOUIS: For the majority of my performance career, I felt (and was perceived as)
athletic, strong, and fast: a dancer who shines in physically demanding works. In the
past five years, I have been dealing with ongoing knee injuries which have
noticeably impaired my ability to move with full power, speed, and athleticism.


I clearly had to learn how to work with these limitations, often forced to accept that
dancing “full-out” was not a viable option anymore. Since then, I often told myself
“go for 60% tonight” while preparing for a show. To my surprise, I quickly realized
that the quality of my performances was not negatively impacted. In fact, it gained in
subtlety and maturity.


This was a huge realization for me, as I often relied on pushing myself beyond my limits as a young dancer. More recently, it became evident that, after more than twenty years of placing performance at the core of my artistic life, my main focus is now my pedagogical practice. From this change, a new sense of freedom and perspective emerged from my relationship to the stage.


LUCY: And what can you say now as a performer that you couldn't say before?


LOUIS: They don’t have to love me.


****
I love being able to sit in on rehearsals, the rougher the better: seeing more of how things
come together, how people problem solve. For me it doesn't take away any of the magic, it
actually enhances my awe of the sleight of hand in performance.


I wonder as I watch Louis move with the precision and passion that I have always admired,
what makes a good self-made solo? How can you evaluate the choreography separately
from the dancer.....As I think this, Louis speaks exactly to this conundrum.


As he continues, I realize, I don't care. I don't care if I think the choreography is good --
when a performer works with skill and depth, the roles become inextricable from each other.
And isn't that the point: the impact of the performance?


I feel that Louis trusts all that his body holds, the traces of those he has danced for,
danced with, created on.


****
LUCY: You have danced for some of Canada’s most respected and creative
dance-makers, how have they impacted you as a choreographer?


LOUIS: I believe we continually carry traces of every person and experience that
cross our path. The choreographers for whom I have danced have of course
impacted how I move, perform, and create in ways I can’t fully describe, or even
comprehend. I imagine that each of them lives within my body memory and
therefore is present, in a way or another, in my last choreographic creation.


****
A repeated gesture that surprises me. Here it is again and yet I am seeing and
connecting to it differently each time. I often reject repetition, but here it is
refreshing and poignant and clever. A beastly moment on rewind, a slouch that
could be decadence, exhaustion, intoxication, an artist's muse....all things at once. I
am drawn into this idea that a single movement can have simultaneous and
divergent meanings.


photo of Louis Laberge-Coté by Jeremy Mimnagh


There is joy in the bittersweetness of Louis' movement and words, the confessions -- both
hilarious and heartbreaking-- the ugliness he is willing to show us. And in this willingness it
becomes beauty. Some impulses are comedic in their stark humanity. Some impulses are
stark in their comedy. And then a sweep of limbs and torso whirls me somewhere new.  I
am struck by a selfish sadness that Louis is stepping away from the stage as a performer
and I have only had the luck of dancing with him once.


****
LUCY: What inspired or provoked a backing away from the stage?


LOUIS: A few elements came into play. As previously mentioned, my knee injuries
had a significant impact on my ability to move. While I enjoyed the transformative
process that ensued, it also became evident that my knees couldn’t support a
full-time performance career, even if I learned to move more sustainably.


Even though I didn’t consciously work at changing my career path, I was
simultaneously given more teaching and choreographing opportunities, which
eventually led to me being recently appointed Assistant Professor of Dance at
Ryerson University. At this point, there is no doubt that I have entered a new chapter
on my artistic and professional paths and that the peak of my performance career is
behind me.


****
Louis breath-takingly sets compassion and empathy in motion near the beginning of his solo
and from then onwards we ride along with him. It seems that any shred of himself that has
not been exposed in past performances has been set loose in this one.


A solo is never a solo -- it is always so full of others on the path to revealing the one. The
stage can seem crowded, from both the perspective of the audience and the performer.
Louis' preparation has been years in accumulation. This accumulation, spanning his
career thus far, has brought about these conditions and this beauty and this ability to say it
all, right now.


****
LUCY:  How have you prepared yourself the vulnerability of a full-length solo?


LOUIS: To me, solo work doesn’t necessarily require more vulnerability than duet,
small group, or even ensemble work. While each of them requires a different set of
skills, I find them equally challenging, scary, inspiring, empowering, revealing, and
rewarding.


The art of degeneration is particularly challenging to me, not so much because it is
a solo, but because a considerable portion of the piece relies on my acting and
singing skills. While I have always enjoyed acting and singing, I certainly do not
have as much experience with these forms. This represents a significant risk for me,
which simultaneously excite and terrify me.


I managed to gather enough resources for an extended creative process with an
incredible team of experienced artists. At this point, I must trust that all the work we
did over the past years will carry me through the performances.


photo of Louis Laberge-Coté photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


In this work, Louis tells you much about himself, but perhaps reveals more through
what he tells you about others. Through repetition and variation of a stream of
gestures and movements, executed with vulnerability, ferocity and exquisiteness, we
begin to feel the breath connecting all these stories, and a certain inevitable mystery
that will not be solved.


We sit through this rehearsal run in an enchanting ambiguity.


I wonder how audiences will feel spilling out into the night after his performance.
Slightly disoriented, I hope. Maybe disorientedly hopeful.


Let me know how you felt.


*****


SEE LOUIS LABERGE-Coté
DanceWorks presents:
The art of degeneration
October 31-November 3, 2018
8pm
The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance
304 Parliament St.


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