This year, 2012, has seen much excitement and beauty emerge from choreographer Jorden Morris' creation of Leonard Cohen-inspired ballet for Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet (which first brought Cohen's works to stage as dance/theatre with 1970s Brian Macdonald-choreographed "The Shining People of Leonard Cohen"). Following the success of his “Dance Me to the End of Love” pas de deux, a sensational highlight of the 2011 Genie Awards telecast – featuring dancers Sophia Lee and Jaime Vargas – Morris' contemporary dance, “The Doorway - Scenes from Leonard Cohen", enjoyed its world premiere this Spring. Pierre Meunier, reviewer for La Liberté, says of this newest RWB Cohen ballet: "Chacune des cinq scènes est un petit bijou." (English translation: "Each of the five scenes is a small jewel.")
Among those most delighted with news of these works by Morris and company is Holly Bright, Artistic and General Director of Crimson Coast Dance Society, based in Allison Crowe's birthplace of Nanaimo, BC, Canada. “How wonderful that this collaboration has arisen! RWB are amazing and well-loved across the country as is Allison! I hope I get the opportunity to see it!,” Bright exclaimed upon Allison Crowe teaming up with the RWB to perform “Hallelujah” in “The Doorway”.
Since settling in Nanaimo in 1992, Holly Bright, choreographer and dancer, has dynamically pursued her mission to advance modern dance and dance literacy in the Harbour City and communities throughout the region. She and Allison's creative paths crossed when the musician, (now nesting in Corner Brook, NL), was living year-round on BC's rock – with one particularly brilliant spark emanating from a multi-disciplinary show at Nanaimo's Port Theatre – presented by the non-profit mental health organization “Open Minds Open Windows”.
“I heard Allison sing Hallelujah at Open Minds Open Windows event we both performed in,” Holly Bright recounts. “I knew I had to dance to her version of this song and my deepest desire was to do it live. It was the perfect ending to a mixed concert around themes of life and death in a cancer society fundraising dance concert produced by Crimson Coast Dance Society.”
In my experience most interpretations of this song give it a down-and-out quality. Don't get me wrong, these are exquisite and captivating renditions, absolutely hitting one important point of view for this song. What compelled me about Allison's version was how I related viscerally to the hope contained within her phrasing. It is a shout that comes from deep within her. It seems to me a cry born out of the experience of being broken, of the effect of pride, of loss, of the experience of deep love, spiritual and relational and of life's call, promise, to heal and grow."
She composed her interpretation like an anthem, with swelling voice, in such a way as to express the pure passion of the experience of learning about love the hard way. Every sentence in that song slays me, anyway, with an impact for which there are no words. Every line breaks my heart, then proceeds to heal it. Then the ending pauses and builds are like love-making, making everything alright somehow.”
The text is sheer poetry, we all know that, and Leonard Cohen is brilliant. "Love is not a victory march, it is a cold and it's a broken hallelujah." My God, I cannot even say those words without my heart sinking while growing at the same time. And isn't that what we long for out of the experience of brokenness... the possibility of hope... of learning and growing... of feeling the weight of what went wrong and the healing promise that life brings."
The challenge of creating movement for that dance that was not predictable yet that would weave metaphor into a song that was already dripping with it was delicious. Allison's YES to my request for the privilege of performing to her singing Hallelujah was a highlight of my career. And the experience itself, on stage, her voice rising to shake the rafters where the angels hang, had me feeling naked "before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah".
Holly Bright in 'Costing Not Less Than Everything', photo by Willow Friday (nee Chandler)
Coda: The dancer's elemental expression pulses outward in the public pool. That reflection of this performance, one dance piece in Bright's “This Body of Knowledge” program, is recorded by a trio of reviews published in March and April 2004:
“Holly Bright's piece introduced the fifth artist of the evening. Allison Crowe sang a soaring rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. She caressed and scraped the lyrics turning Cohen's song into an anthem. Bright matched this knockout performance with a solo that was sinuous, lush and beautifully phrased. The extension of her expressive arms embraced space and the emotional content of the song majestically.” ~ Russell Kilde (choreographer, theatre director, critic)
“Nanaimo's own Holly Bright and Allison Crowe provided a stunning finale to the evening. Crowe sang Leonard Cohen¹s "Hallelujah" with a depth and power that made the song soar. Bright¹s duet with the music was filled with strength, vulnerability and intense beauty. Alternating between moments of expansion and quiet intensity, the music and the movement were woven together expertly. The result was a clear revelation of the pathos and the brilliance of human experience.” ~ Keri Wehlander (author, lyricist+)
“In the final number, Allison Crowe at the piano joined Crimson Coast's Holly Bright for a radiant, rousing, celebratory rendition of Leonard Cohen's lovely "Hallelujah," with Holly's graceful, expansive movements providing the visual corollary for Allison's full, vibrant voice, completing the circle, merging body and spirit, body and mind.” ~ Shirley Goldberg (Film Studies instructor, writer, cinephile/critic)
In the dance, life - to quote Leonard Cohen anew – “God is alive, magic is afoot”.
Musician Allison Crowe is thrilled to perform with Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet for the World Premiere of “The Doorway” – a contemporary ballet from choreographer Jorden Morris opening the words and music of legendary poet, singer-songwriter, and survivor Leonard Cohen.
“Graceful, moving, achingly honest, the series of dance vignettes are set to Cohen's songs and poems, exploring the emotional journey across the threshold to love and longing,” says the RWB of this new piece from Morris, creator of the tremendously successful and celebrated “Peter Pan” (2006 premiere) and “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet” (2009 premiere) for the company. For the live national broadcast of the 2011 Genie Awards, Morris created a sensuous pas de deux – embracing Cohen's song “Dance Me to the End of Love” – performed by Corps de Ballet member Sophia Lee and former RWB Principal Dancer, and current Ballet Master, Jaime Vargas with music from Montréal rock band Karkwa.
“Working with the RWB is going to be such an awesome experience – even to just watch these amazing people dance is gift enough,” Allison Crowe says. “I am humbled to be able to be a part of such a beautiful project, in tribute to such a wonderfully talented and brilliant man, Leonard Cohen.”
Growing up in Westmount, on the Island of Montreal, Cohen entered the fringes of a life in music as a Buckskin Boy. Though “born with the gift of a golden voice”, and building a sterling reputation as a writer – author, poet and songsmith – in the '60s , '70s and on, he's endured stranger times to test his mettle. This century has witnessed a renaissance in appreciation of his work and Leonard Cohen reach his most cherished state as an artist. Emblematic of this status, in May 2012, as the RWB presents this new creation based on his art, Leonard Cohen will be feted for a lifetime of achievement in music and poetry – receiving the Glenn Gould Prize at Toronto's Massey Hall.One of the world's top concert draws, Cohen's newest album, “Old Ideas”, charted #1 in countries 'round the globe.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, based in the culturally-vibrant city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is Canada's oldest, and North America's longest continually operating, ballet company. Founded in 1939, it's the first ballet company in the world to be granted the Royal title – bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. And, it's the first organization anywhere to present a theatrical or dance production of Leonard Cohen's work. During the RWB tenure of Artistic Director Arnold Spohr (1958 – 1988), in Summer 1970, Brian Macdonald choreographed “The Shining People of Leonard Cohen” which debuted in Paris. Later, that July, it's staged at Canada's National Arts Centre in Ottawa – with eclectic band Lighthouse, and a pair of bats from the belfry, opening the show.
Today, André Lewis, named RWB Artistic Director in 1996, (he began his association as a dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet School in 1975), oversees the launch of this newest creation, “The Doorway – Scenes from Leonard Cohen”. Jeff Herd, native Winnipegger, after a decade as company manager for Cirque du Soleil's “O” at the Bellagio, in Las Vegas, and some years overseas, is back home helping further the RWB's legacy in motion as Executive Director. Bob Stewart serves as Production Director. Tad Biernacki, is RWB Music Director and Conductor and, in this circumstance, kindly, match-maker. With costume design by Anne Armit and lighting design from Hugh Conacher, Jorden Morris' piece is partnered with RWB alumnus Peter Quanz's “Luminous”, and audience favourite Mauricio Wainrot's “Carmina Burana” for an evening, (and one Sunday matinee), of classical and contemporary ballet that runs May 9 – 13, 2012 at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall. It's a mixed program united as “Pure Ballet”.
A pure talent and communicator in song, Allison Crowe, is invited to perform her piano and vocal version of “Hallelujah”, a modern classic. First recorded by Crowe in 2003 for her CD “Tidings”, this Leonard Cohen song has been covered more than 200 times – in a wide range of styles. Iconoclastically, free of mainstream ties and marketing, Crowe's version has steadily emerged among the most-enjoyed worldwide. A YouTube video of Allison Crowe performing “Hallelujah” live-in-the-studio has an audience of more than eight million people. Acclaimed Hollywood director Zack Snyder tags it “beautiful”, “sexy” and “romantic”. The bi-coastal singer-songwriter, born in Nanaimo, BC, and now home in Corner Brook, NL, is honoured to deliver her passion for the song live to the RWB's lovers of “visible music”.
Crowe enters fine musical company with those whose performances will also illuminate “The Doorway”. Whether criss-crossing the country to visit hundreds of schools and inspire children, or expressing their humanitarian nature performing in Kenya and Dubai, dynamic Winnipeg duo “Keith and Reneé” (http://www.keithandrenee.com/) shine. The veteran pair make music of many genres, folk and country among them, that reach people via radio, tv, film and commercials. They penned “Good Year”, theme of Manitoba's Homecoming 2010 and, fresh off a dream tour with entertainer Jann Arden, “KnR” bring to the Centennial's live stage their heartland take on “Bird on a Wire”.
Alongside these performers, and recorded words and music of Leonard Cohen, the program includes an incandescent “Sisters of Mercy” as captured live on “Circle of Friends”, a 1991 album by South Dakota-born, US prairie-raised musician, activist and pioneer Cris Williamson (http://criswilliamson.com/). This was the 15th anniversary concert recording of Willamson's “The Changer and the Changed”, an epochal album which went gold, (sales over 500,000), and is to indie and women's music what Michael Jackson's “Thriller” was to general pop in its day.
Allison Crowe follows up this exciting RWB engagement with a rare off-stage role – serving as Music Director for “Newfoundland Vinyl” – a rollicking spin through popular music's coming of age on “the rock” – presented in this Summer's Gros Morne Theatre Festival by Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador. A “Tidings Live” album and video documentary is in the works with film-maker Peter Buckle. These North American activities precede Allison Crowe's next European tour – featuring a concert return to Germany, Italy, England, Scotland+