For many who pursue the creative life, it’s the ultimate dream: marrying a fellow artist. For Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux, it’s an obvious union-dance and family are the primary languages they use to engage with the world.
Lemieux trained with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, and found her way to Toronto where she met Coleman, a Canadian-born dancer whose career had taken him from Dublin to London to New York. Coleman and Lemieux began collaborating in 1991, married in 1995, and incorporated Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in 2000. Both partners have had successful solo careers, and though they continue to perform, their focus has shifted toward family, community outreach, and artistic collaborations. At the same time, they continue to produce highly professional stage productions like In Paradisum, the program of works by James Kudelka they bring to Santa Barbara on Friday, November 16. Last week, I spoke to Bill Coleman on the phone from Montreal about the interplay in his life between family, community, and choreography.
Family seems to be a central theme of your work-your children and even your parents have taken part in some of your productions. Tell me about that. I think it starts it all off that Laurence and I are a couple, so already the work becomes veneered by that connection. Having children enhances it even more, and underlying it all is the fact that we love dance in its pure forms, but also we believe it’s a great art for anywhere. We like to go to remote places and small communities and use dance as a calling card to have a dialogue with people and explore the country. Not everybody likes to go walkabout with dance, but Laurence and I are very comfortable using dance to meet and greet the world around us.
How does that interest in community dance work relate to the highly technical, polished performances you also create? We tend to work with a regular pool of dancers and generally we draw on more experienced dancers; we go for a very specific experience and quality. A lot of our dancers are people who have already had great careers with ballet or contemporary dance companies. We are not hierarchical; we function very, very differently, so we tend to form a kind of family with our dancers.
How did you decide to collaborate with James Kudelka? In the ’90s, Laurence and I were both dancing with Toronto Dance Theatre-an established dance company in Canada. James was invited to choreograph on the company, and that’s how we got to know him. He’s unusual, I think, in that he works in both the ballet world-very successfully-and in the contemporary dance world. James likes working with us for many of the same reasons the dancers like dancing with us.
Tell me a little bit about each piece in In Paradisum. “Fifteen Heterosexual Duets” is pretty much as it sounds-15 duets back to back, all of them male/female. The piece is set to Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. Every duet has a different character and personality. Many are lyrical, a lot are complex-it’s a real tour de force in partnering and working with couples.
The second piece in the program-“Soudain, l’hiver dernier” or “Suddenly last winter”-is a duet between two men. It’s very, very simple in its form; it doesn’t have tons of complicated lifts. It uses simple gestures and counterbalances, which are beautiful and very moving; it delivers quite a punch.
“In Paradisum,” the last piece in the program, is a dance for nine people, and James just restaged it for us-we have not actually premiered it yet. It’s a ferocious, kinetic work. It starts and never stops. It’s very strenuous for the dancers, and it’s fantastic, emotional movement. He uses the body beautifully-there are not completely pure lines-and it’s very complex, rhythmically and technically fast in some parts. It’s a fantastic way to finish the program.
Besides your upcoming West Coast tour, what else is going on with the company? Laurence has just choreographed “Interiors,” the piece with our two children, and in a few months we will go China and Mongolia with In Paradisum, which will be quite interesting. I think we’ll probably start something new this spring. I started out in tap dance, and I have begun to relearn how to improvise it lyrically. I think sometime soon there will be a new creation fusing very interior, minimal movement and hoofing.
Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie will perform In Paradisum at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Friday, November 16, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The company will also offer a public masterclass at Santa Barbara City College on Thursday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 966-6950 or visit sbdancealliance.org.