Martha Graham, Grand Dame of modern dance, whose influence still resonates, defined dance as communication.
She spoke of two qualities a dancer has at the peak of his or her powers: “Spontaneity, arrived at over years and years of training, it is not mere chance. The other is simplicity—a state of complete simplicity, costing no less than everything.”
In the art of Dulcinea Langfelder both come through, whether she is waltzing with a wheel chair, whirling with a hoop, defending an imaginary net as a hulking hockey player, conversing with a suitcase, or conjuring dreams, as she does in Pillow Talk, An Essay on Dreaming, her one-woman show premiering at Centaur Theatre.
Her work defies definition. Her company’s mission is to “brighten life through performances that vivaciously break cultural and social barriers.” Victoria, created in 1999 and still touring, was billed as “theatre” in France, but publicized in England as “dance” the following year.
“I have a multi-disciplinary personality,” Langfelder said in a phone interview. “I have a hard time making up my mind, hard time ordering food in a restaurant. I can’t decide.”
On stage she incorporates physical theatre, music, multi-media, and is actor, dancer, mime and storyteller, all at once. At times she is also a clown. “Laughter as far as I’m concerned, is one of the most important things we human beings do,” she said. “We laugh for so many reasons and there are so many different kinds of laughter. It is a complex, enigmatic subject. I’m always intrigued by the laughter that is the richest and deepest.”
In Victoria, as a wheelchair-bound 90 year-old suffering from the loss of memory, autonomy and just about everything else, Langfelder melded tragedy with humour and succeeded in touching her audience. “People have come up to me and told me that piece is very uplifting, that it changed their lives. These were mostly people who have been close to the subject matter of dementia, caring for a loved one at the end of life. A terrible situation the majority of us will go through,” Langfelder said. “My intention with all of my pieces is really to help people. I like to feel useful, I hope the audience will walk out of the theatre a little taller than when they came in.”
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Born in Brooklyn, Langfelder recalls her first teacher, “Miss Ronnie,” with affection. “She taught us the Martha Graham modern dance technique and I loved it. She had us perform for the neighbours on the lawn every spring, like Isadora Duncan’s girls, and she gave me a love of movement that will never die.”
She recalls being “traumatized” at 13 by her dance teacher, who admonished her for looking out the window during her lessons, telling her that if she wanted to dance in his company she must stay focused inside the studio for ten years. “He forced me at a very young age to think about what dance was. At the time it was very abstract, very architectural and I was more into the Graham storytelling.”
In her 20’s, Langfelder moved to Paris to study with the great mime Étienne Decroux, Marcel Marceau’s teacher. “He was very inspiring, a great master, that everyone who wanted to learn anything about mime wanted to study with.” A contemporary of Martha Graham who died shortly after Graham died, Decroux was in his 80s at the time. “I caught him at the end of his life and he was still going strong. He called his technique ‘the art of the actor,’ meaning he was his own composer, writer, director. The actor is everything; he expresses his stories through his body. That was the training that was ingrained in me.”
In Pillow Talk, Langfelder explores the phenomenon of dreaming, using material she has collected over years of taping her own dreams. “You can train yourself to remember your dreams.
I used to write them down but got lazy. I got a Dictaphone and during the night mumbled into the machine.”
A few years ago she listened to the recordings and was amazed at the richness of material. “It’s an overview of 30 dreams by the same dreamer, but not about me. I am a lab rat hopefully able to shine a light on why we dream.”
Langfelder says dreams help us deal with problems we all face. “It seems crystal clear to me that we dream in order to help us cope with living, and I’m very impressed with the way we do that artistically. It is no exaggeration to say we are all artists, every single night.”
Pillow Talk: An Essay on Dreaming is at Centaur Theatre until April 24. Tickets $50/$28 seniors. Info: 514 288-3161 or visit centaurtheatre.com.