The melting voice through mazes running;
Untwisting all the chains that ty
The hidden soul of harmony.
John Milton, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso
Given the strong literary connections embodied by Laurence Lemieux’s critically acclaimed 2003 choreographic work Varenka, Varenka!, it seems only fitting to compare the sheer beauty of this very measured and elegant piece of dance theatre to another literary genius. Although Milton’s famous odes L'Allegro and Il Penseroso represent notions of both joy and sadness, while Lemieux’s connection to Dostoevsky’s novel Poor Folk appears to be a more pensive, melancholy meditation, Lemieux’s gradual choreographic rhythms, moving from sharp, quietly gestural forms to a finale rife with minute, explosive characterization through the brilliant articulation of finely detailed bodily movement, is a mesmerizing study in the quality of rhythm as it relates to emotional, romantic, and material attachment.
Set design by David Gaucher provides a simple interconnected skeletal form representing the modest rooms that the two characters inhabit across the street from each other. A backdrop reminiscent of a surrealist canvas by de Chirico grounds the relationship within the bleak confines of poverty that dominate Dostoevsky’s narrative.
Nell Coleman’s costumes provide subtle and elegant forms for the two bodies to emerge from within, neither inhibiting nor distracting them from the sheer agony/frustration and the meager, frequently passionate contentment they seem to discover along the way.
Accompaniment by Vladimir Sidorov, on the bayan, (a type of chromatic button accordion developed in Russia in the early 20th century and named after the 11th-century bard Boyan) is utterly engaging as Sidorov’s onstage presence provides a kind of meta-theatrical connection through the astounding versatility of a unique musical instrument that builds a diverse soundscape for the narrative to inhabit. Voice-overs in Russian add to the mystique of the piece and allow anyone unfamiliar with the language the insatiable desire to crave a long moody look at Dostoevsky’s first novel - an impressive work that paved the way toward the Russian Master’s iconic literary status.
The current re-mount of VARENKA, VARENKA! at the recently opened Citadel Theatre on Parliament Street is a testament to the dedication and the immense skill and collaborative brilliance of the partnership of Lemieux and her husband Bill Coleman. Lemieux is able to move through the piece with great finesse, at one point using the voluminous folds of her lower costume to sharply inhabit the quick expressive forward movements of her arching body. Coleman’s subtle balletic movements, combined with the sharp explosive minute tableaus he creates in the finale, and throughout, reveal how the simple fold of an arm or the abrupt turn of the head can become a profound and moving example of fine dance theatre, infusing an old classic with the vibrance and immediacy of a live performing body.
Varenka Varenka! Runs until March 31st. at the Citadel Theatre,
304 Parliamant Street, just south of Dundas