Are you seeing Dichterliebe from Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie (CLC) at the Citadel this week? It’s a multi-media collaboration, and excuse me if that description is so common that it’s almost unintelligible; I’ll decode it in a moment.
But you notice I said “see” and not “hear”? if you’re going to see Dichterliebe the best preparation you can make is to first hear Schumann’s song cycle. That’s because Dichterliebe is an adaptation of the song cycle using a dancer, and at times asking both the singer and even the pianist to move. Employing a different choreographer for each of the sixteen songs, I interpret this piece as a kind of celebration of the new space created on Parliament Street adjacent to Regent Park, a neighbourhood struggling to be reborn.
Schumann’s Dichterliebe (a title that translates as “A Poet’s Love”) based on poems of Heinrich Heine, is a high-water mark in the genre of the song cycle. The words tell a story in a series of static snapshots, progressing from anticipation and new love through a kind of satisfaction & bliss through a period of disappointment, heartbreak, traumatic struggle, and eventual recovery. The unity of words & music were unprecedented, the composition pointing to the imminent invention by Wagner in the next decade of the Gesamtkunstwerk: the total artwork unified across multiple disciplines. We take it for granted that the set & costumes, direction, text & music should all pursue the same strategic objectives –and by the way, this translates to most modern media such as films or computer games . In Wagner’s time this was a new ambition that hadn’t been put into words. How much stranger –and more brilliant—Schumann’s achievement, that he took the words of this series of poems and gave them musical settings that describe a perfect emotional arc to match. Wagner’s ideal for opera that he articulated in the 1850s was already there in Schumann’s 1840 cycle.
It’s already a bit radical to imagine Dichterliebe turned into a dance piece, where –in the Wagnerian tradition—you get a single vision from a choreographer imposing their ideas on everyone else, who then function as the puppets under that domination (and maybe you can see why Hitler was so attracted to Wagner). But why hand the choreography of the sixteen songs to a group of choreographers, rather than one man or woman? why turn this unified song cycle into something else?
Because CLC sought to celebrate the building of the new space as a microcosm of the new Regent Park. Here’s what I read about the Citadel on the CLC website:
The Citadel has been chosen by Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux as a place to research, create, learn and welcome dancers from around the world. A former dispensary of the Salvation Army, located in the middle of Regent Park in Toronto, The Citadel has been carefully renovated by CLC to create an inspiring work environment for the choreographers of the company and the dance community. The Citadel is also home to the The YogaBeat, an initiative offering pay-what-you-can yoga classes to the community.
The production embodies the Regent Park ideal in miniature, where instead of one boss, everyone shares the leadership roles. Among the sixteen choreographers, they used the new building’s Project Manager & its Architect, a student from First Nations School, a playwright, a theatre director, and a pair of fashion designers, to go with a series of dancers & choreographers. Some of the names are well-known, lending lustre to the proceedings.
- Alex Poch-Goldin
- Ken Gass
- James Kudelka
- David Earle
But the stars work as equals alongside those who are not so well-known.
Forgive me if a parse the message in such obvious terms, but it’s quite lovely and deserving to spread much further than this small neighbourhood in the process of being re-built and re-imagined. The sharing of disparate visions in collaboration is a kind of enactment of community at work rather than one where a solitary vision is imposed upon everyone. This implies a tolerance of diversity. Everyone works together even though the roles bring different skills and perspectives to the table. And yes, it’s a multi-media piece because it’s part-dance, part-drama, part-song cycle. That Dichterliebe works so well may be an indication that this adaptation is a brilliant idea. I made the earlier suggestion about coming with the music echoing inside your head because there’s so much to look at.
There’s baritone Alex Dobson, singing most delicately in this small space, but occasionally popping out full-sized notes that take one by surprise. Dobson is note perfect, mostly gentle & ultra-refined with a gorgeous rich tone that I’ve missed. I last heard him in The Midnight Court by Ana Sokolovic, although I understand he’s been singing a lot in Montreal. But his operatic sound is something different; this is a chamber sound, modulated to match the accompaniment and the intimacy of the space.
Pianist Jeanie Chung more than held her own in this unorthodox version of the Schumann cycle that challenges the pianist in a few of the songs. Her usual role was complicated by the need to supply music not just for a singer but for dance as well.
I mention Laurence Lemieux third only because of my own prejudices, coming to Dichterliebe as a lifelong accompanist of baritones (there’s one in my family) and as a pianist. Her contribution in collaboration with the assembly of choreographic talent is perhaps the most remarkable part of the work, something genuinely new.
I found myself thinking of François Girard’s 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, or Wallace Steven’s poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.
There’s so much going on at times –given that one could watch the piano player, the singer or the dancer—that I regret that I couldn’t take in the most physical, the most genuinely new part of the performance. Meaning no disrespect to either Chung or Dobson, but what they did in Dichterliebe is not so very different from what they would likely do in a “normal” presentation of the cycle. Lemieux’s part is so much newer, yet i couldn’t help regularly watching piano and singer.
I suppose that’s normal, but it means I am not competent to do more than ohh and ahh over the fascinating combinations, the variegated surface of this multi-faceted jewel. Sometimes I felt pathos, other times exhilaration, and a few times, I laughed out loud.
There’s a kind of inter-disciplinary thing I thought I saw, when at one point Lemieux sneered “singers!”, ironically dissing the oh so serious Dobson. She was coming from a modern place of commentary & in effect creating a gloss on the older piano-vocal text. The audience –listeners and watchers alike—were surely divided, because often we didn’t know whether to watch or listen, and in the end we tried to do both. Considering that there are three performers, the piece is astonishingly rich.
The program, to be repeated Thursday Oct 11th through Saturday Oct 13th, also includes Dobson’s presentation of some of the songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang (literally “Swan Song”) accompanied by Chung, and Chung playing solo in the soulful last movement from Schumann’s C major Fantasy as a kind of overture. The work bears repeated watching. I know I’d have a better appreciation if I saw it again.
http://www.colemanlemieux.com/ for more info about the artists & a link to buy tickets.