de Sela lives again in Danse Lhasa Danse
by Carle Steel
DANSE LHASA DANSE
In Danse Lhasa Danse, the disembodied voice of Lhasa de Sela tells how her father explained life and death to her:
“When we are conceived, we appear in our mother’s womb like a little tiny light suspended in an immense space and there’s no sound. It’s completely dark and time doesn’t seem to exist. It’s like an ocean of darkness. And then we keep growing and growing. As we grow slowly we begin to feel things and touch the walls of the world we’re in. Then we begin to hear sounds and feel shocks that come to us from the outside. And as we get bigger and bigger the distance between ourselves and that other outside world becomes smaller and smaller. And this world that we’re inside that seemed so huge in the beginning and so infinitely welcoming has become very uncomfortable and we are obliged to be born.”
The moment of birth, according to her father, is so violent and chaotic that we are convinced that we are about to die. “We’re born thinking: ‘This is it. This is death.’ We are so surprised because it’s just the beginning.” Throughout our lives, we again learn the contours of our world, again feel shocks from somewhere else, another world that follows us our whole lives, as if something is happening on the other side of a very thin wall. We forget about until we are obliged to die. This time, we know for sure it’s the end, that this is death. “It’s not the end either. It’s just the beginning of something else.”
De Sela, who passed away on Jan. 1, 2010, lived with her ear to that wall, exploring the contours of her world with all her senses, relaying what she learned to the rest of us through her music and art. Her body of work is not large — she made only three albums before her death four years ago at the age of 37 — but its impact was huge.
Well-respected and critically acclaimed, de Sela and her music transcended genre and language.
“It was like she was channeling something from the ages, that came through her voice and her spirit,” says Pierre-Paul Savoie, creator and director of the modern dance and musical tribute to the late singer, Danse Lhasa Danse. “There was no one who sang or wrote from there.”
Her loss was enormous, he says.
“She was a kind of guide in life. When we have someone like that, we just want her to continue to talk to us. The way she spoke was so clear to our ears and our emotions, so we simply don’t want those people to disappear,” says Savoie.
“They are precious; there are so few of them.”
Her work and life, he says, demanded a response.
First conceived as a one-off performance, the show has now had 25 productions across the country. A mix of music, modern dance, flamenco and video projection, the show interprets de Sela’s work without any other words or music but hers — an important parameter that Savoie set at the beginning of the creation of the piece. “We were focused on transmitting her universe.”
The artistic choices after that were simple, he says. Savoie asked six choreographers to create work from two songs that moved them from any of her three albums.
“I was the director, but the direction got there before I had time to explain. I told them they’re sharing the stage: singer, dance and audience.”
The result of that initial collaboration was magic, he says.
“It was an encounter not just with Lhasa, but an encounter between the dance world and the music world.”
Dance, Savoie says, is the perfect medium to represent Lhasa’s music. “She was so soulful. I felt that dance had the same power to communicate deeply,” he says. “Dance is universal; the body represents her soul. Whatever language you are speaking, it comes across.”
And it does, whether audiences are familiar with her work or not.
“It’s a universal story about living and dying. Many people have experienced death when they see the show and are comforted by her vision and imagery,” he says.
“We come to give them the perspective that death is not the end of the trip. It’s a new beginning.”