Six nude dancers perform 'in costume'
Daniel Léveillé Danse brings 'The Modesty of Icebergs' to Prague's Archa Theater
Posted: September 25, 2013
Relationships among trios of people are explored in 'The Modesty of Icebergs.'
When you hear the word "modesty," probably the first thing that comes to mind is proper clothing. The dance performance called The Modesty of Icebergs is missing just that. The six dancers on stage, five men and one woman, are nude. The piece was first performed in 2004, but this is the first time that Montreal-based Daniel Léveillé Danse is bringing it to Prague. Léveillé, the choreographer behind the company, has been working with the nude form 2001.
The space for the piece, part of a trilogy, is also fairly barren, leaving the dancers in to showcase the vulnerability of the human condition. "In the previous piece that I created I was working with solos and duets, exploring who you are when you're alone, what you are doing and what happens with somebody else. But in The Modesty of Icebergs I tried to create the ideal, perfect triangle - a love triangle," Léveillé said in an interview he gave to Archa to promote the Prague performance.
It took him six months to figure out how to make the relationships among the trios work because there are almost no examples in life. "We know what it is to be alone, we know what it is to be a couple; and a couple will make a baby, but the baby is not the same relation as the triangle," he added.
"The traditional idea of the triangle is the father, mother and the child, but in this piece it's three adults. The question was so big that it forced me to find an answer, and I found one that I am really proud of. People might not like The Modesty of Icebergs, but I think it is very well written," he said.
When: Sept. 27 and 28 at 8 p.m.
Where: Divadlo Archa
Tickets: 490 Kč
Léveillé writes the text of his choreography like the text of a play or a novel. "Through the years the way I write choreography has changed. I started like most of the young choreographers by writing books and books of notes before the first rehearsal, because it's so frightening to have a bunch of people in front of you and you have to direct them. But through the years you know the inspiration is going to come from somewhere, from the walls or the ceiling or the floor, so my role is to catch it once it comes," he said.
"I would pose a physical question to the dancer, like 'what if you put your hand there and do a lift?' and I'd hope that the dancers by trying the movement will find the answer. This way it's really fast, because the body instead of trying to mime what I have asked immediately finds the solution. It's very precise; the body knows." he added.
The choreographer has said he said that he considers nudity to be a costume. "If the dancers wear anything else the meaning of the piece is different. That's the discovery that I made the first time I asked the dancers to do a run through naked," he said.
"After a while I would rather say we'd do a round 'in costume," which means naked. This way maybe they also feel safer. Mainly what this costume does on stage is cut almost all sexual meaning and sensuality away, because it's not sexual at all, it's almost the reverse. They're young dancers with nice bodies, so if they just wear underwear or a T-shirt or something they look sexy. Naked we're really somewhere else," added.
The attitude toward nudity also varies across time and from place to place. "When I first started to tour with Amour, Acide et Noix in 2002, which is also full naked, depending on where we were the reception was not exactly the same," he said. The reaction in each city was closely linked to specific cultural attitudes toward nudity in general.
He has a process for making dancers feel comfortable on stage. "Of course we don't rehearse in costume, but through the years whenever I worked with new dancers I would ask them who is the worst person you can imagine can be in the audience that night. Most of the time for the girls it's their father or their brother or their lover or whatever. And so I would ask him or her to bring that person into the studio for the rehearsal, so once this is done, then strangers are not a problem," he said.
One association people make is to compare the dancers to classical Greek sculptures. "I think it's because of the skin that we see it. It's true that the positions are very sculptural, so most people will see the Greek sculptures first. Some of these influences have come from my own background, but since the bodies are naked I think we see it more. I also studied architecture, so I had that sensibility. For me the body is almost like a column, something that will hold a building. Verticality in my work is very strong, not tense, just solid," he said.
The piece has received good reviews over the years, with The New York Times saying. "Mr. Léveillé has truly created a dance that communicates the extraordinary effort required to simply live."
Andre Swoboda contributed to this report
Raymond Johnston can be reached at
Tags: Daniel Léveillé Danse.