By Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté
Presented by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie
The Citadel, Toronto
February 10 to 13, 2016
Akshongay is the Bengali word for “together” and both the title and the dance itself make a good summing up of the 15-year collaboration between Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté.
The two dancer/choreographers are the performance equivalent of an old married couple. Watching them interpret each other’s dance vocabulary – Graham-esque modern in his case, Bharatanatyam in hers – is akin to witnessing a long-married husband and wife finishing each other’s sentences.
Emerging from the fog as the lights go up, the couple sits cross-legged, draped in a crimson Indian silk throw, facing each other, knees touching. Infectious laughter ripples through their shoulders, until Laberge-Côté buckles over in heavy sobs. Stretching themselves out over the full performance space, they give a sense of the compass of this togetherness. A couple of times, standing in front of each other, their arms and a leg are manipulated to make the many-armed Hindu goddess Kali. A few words of dialogue (“without her he is nothing”) ground the idea of together-forever.
Akshongay, Laberge-Côté and Bhattacharya’s first full-length show, was first performed in 2013. Repeated performances have allowed for development of the piece. As Laberge-Côté related in their talk-back at the Citadel, the proportion of improvisation to set steps has altered considerably – in favour of improv – since the premiere of the duet.
The viewer senses the aliveness and spontaneity in the performance as the relationship between the two dancers morphs before our eyes. Smiles and seriousness alternate with their transformations: she dons a sari, he puts on a jacket. Bhattacharya’s eyes establish the changing mood, from flirtation to seduction to confrontation. Dressing and undressing appears natural, in the flow of their rapidly changing movements. A brief solo by each performer gives breathing room in the piece.
Each change of focus of the lights – Marc Parent’s lighting design is the only set element – brings a new vignette. As the dancers intertwine, with a focus on the breath, their coupling seems tantric, their unfurling in modern or Indian classical moves a delightful flowering.
Philip Strong’s music employs a French-Canadian fiddle motif for Laberge-Côté and a tabla track for Bhattacharya that adds another narrative layer to this intensely moving piece. Water sounds enforce the notion of an ever-changing relationship.
Akshongay wouldn’t suffer from a trim of a few minutes, but as last week’s show proved, any opportunity for a remount only makes this work better.
Photo by John Lauener