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Leonard Cohen, Dance Me

Ballet Jazz de Montréal brought their Leonard Cohen – Dance Me program to Centre in the Square recently. It assembles the work of three choreographers into a single program that pays tribute to Leonard Cohen’s body of work.

Much of it was, of course, very sexy. Less expected was the funny—“Tower of Song” is a pretty wry piece, when you think about it. And the dance interpretation definitely did have you thinking about those poetic lyrics in a new way. Though just when you were getting into that groove, they’d shake it up. Interspersing Leonard’s image, his voice (in interviews), his words (projected on a screen). For “So Long, Mariane”, the dancing stopped in favor of a woman just singing the song. The inevitable “Hallelujah” was treated similarly, albeit with two singers.

The whole thing was terrific. Despite not being particularly a Leonard Cohen fan, Jean quite enjoyed it as well. It was very well attended (not quite sold out, but “limited availability”) and was much lauded at the end.

Most of the music came from the later part of Leonard Cohen’s career, with a number of live selections. This pleased me, as to this day, I have trouble listening to his earlier, folky oeuvre.

I first got into Leonard Cohen music via Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album, which I adored (and still rather like). I thought of that when they danced to “Famous Blue Raincoat”, obviously using Leonard’s version, not Jennifer’s. Warnes subtly changed the lyrics of that song, such that I could never make heads or tails of what was going on in it. When I finally listened to the original, it was like, oh, now see I. Not “You treated some woman to a flake of your life”, but “You treated my woman to a flake of your life.” Completely changes the meaning and feeling of the next line, “And when she got home, she was nobody’s wife.”

Jennifer’s take
And Leonard’s

I recently heard Joan Baez’ version. She just sings the original lyrics, right down the the “Sincerely, L. Cohen” at the end. His songs are so “covered”; I guess everyone, especially women, have to decide how to make them work. K.d. lang’s “Hallelujah” skips the verse with the line “I remember when I moved in you”; other women (like Emilie Claire Barlow) keep it in. At Ballet Jazz (where it was mostly sung by a man; a woman provided harmonies) they did a shortened version overall. I would guess might have skipped the song entirely—it not being that danceable—except that you can’t, really…?

Amazing how iconic it’s become, given a what a flop it originally was (and Cohen’s original version… still isn’t my favourite thing to listen to). Malcolm Gladwell has a really interesting podcast episode on the song’s long road to success (even if it doesn’t have enough k.d. lang in it).

All about Hallelujah

“Dance Me to the End of Love” and “Take This Waltz” were more obvious choreographic choices, and were featured early in the program. Warming up the room nicely. Brought to mind the film Take This Waltz, which features one of the sexiest scenes I’ve ever seen… though that’s probably a woman thing, because the two participants are fully clothed and don’t touch each other. They’re contemplating what to do with their lust for one another, given that she’s married (and not to him). “I want to know what you’d do to me,” she says.

And then he tells her. Wow.

Take This Waltz trailer

Leonard Cohen himself played Centre in the Square once. This was after he’d decided to go on tour, to make some money, having found out that his manager had embezzled all his earnings. Not being sure how the tour would be received, Cohen played some smaller venues, like this one.

I had the opportunity to buy tickets early, but I was like, well, do I even really like Leonard Cohen himself, versus some woman singing his songs? So I passed. Which, of course, turned out to be really stupid. The tour was amazing because (as the podcast gets into) Leonard Cohen is something of a late bloomer, and his mature voice and (especially) his terrific full backup band—not to mention all those great songs—made them so. I love his live albums.

Other residents of KW were smarter than I, and the show sold out quickly, so there was no getting late tickets, either. After that initial, very successful tour, it was all stadiums in big cities. So I never saw him live, except on video.

Leonard Cohen, Live in London

But at least I didn’t miss this dance tribute.