Lisbeth Gruwez Dances Bob Dylan | Review by Joshua Dalledonne
I’ll start by saying that I’m a Bob Dylan fan – not a super fan or anything, but I like Bob Dylan. My favourite album is Desire, I mercifully ignore his weird Christian-music-era period in the early 80’s, and yes, I even like his paintings; which I know will likely draw the ire of those with better taste. Like I said – I’m a fan.
So, I’m heading into Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan with expectations. The stage consists of what I’d call a ‘record’ station on the left (standing height table with requisite audiophile gear), behind which Maarten Van Cauwenberghe fiddles with a record player and some beer bottles. Lisbeth is nearby and both are comfortable – Maarten is in sock feet, Lisbeth in a white blouse perfect for entertaining, lounging, and dancing – a practical (and dare I say, stylish) choice. It’s as if the house party has just ended and neither are quite ready to call it quits. We’ve all been there.
Perhaps this informs the first thing I notice about the song choices Lisbeth and Maarten make. Dylan’s inventory of songs is vast and yet the show is composed entirely of acoustic numbers: All the Tired Horses, Willie McTell, Ballad of Hollis Brown, One More Cup of Coffee, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Subterranean Home Sick Blues, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.
I was expecting at least one electric track – Like a Rolling Stone perhaps – but, like I said, if the party has just ended these tracks are certainly mellow enough to calm, but lively enough to sway, step, – to be moved by.
Lisbeth starts the show slowly, rising and falling –she responds to Dylan’s, All the Tired Horses with a frustrated exhaustion that propels her. And during Ballad of Hollis Brown, Lisbeth seems to embody both Brown’s constantly churning quagmire of difficulties and the circular motion of the record player – it’s mesmerizing. These elements of Lisbeth’s performance are the most impactful; where she plays with both the lyrics, the music, and her body. It becomes transformative when the reflection of the stage lights on the high-gloss floor create something akin to ocean waves on the back curtain. This came into focus for me during ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ (from the Desire album) and was best used during Knocking on Heaven’s door, where Lisbeth travels with the pedestrian focus of a death row inmate away from the audience and towards the distant and rippling curtain; her back to us and her shoulders, feet, and hips saying more than Dylan’s words could capture.
Lisbeth does lose the thread during Subterranean Homesick Blues, where I found her choreography too focused on demonstrating the lyrics – the substance of the song deserved more. I also question the choice to pause, sometimes deeply, between the tracks. Throughout the show, each song existed separately from the other, which seems inconsistent to the end of evening dance party vibe, the flow of an album and the chords being played; I craved a connection between the tracks through Lisbeth’s movement.
That’s not to say the spaces between the tracks were idle. In here, Lisbeth asks us if “everything [is] ok?” or removes her pants for a dreamlike piece illuminated by a single light articulated to her movements by Maarten. She builds a casual relationship with the audience in the breaks, one that isn’t overly concerned with small talk – she makes it abundantly clear that we’re beyond formalities now. So far beyond that when the show is over, we don’t even know it. Lisbeth gives us one more chance to catch it, in her generous version of an encore: asking for a Dylan song from the audience (they have a lot, but not everything.)
I take advantage of the break in the track and quickly shout ‘Lay Lady Lay.” A great choice, yes – but also a bit of a joke.
If you listen closely to Dylan’s 1976 album Hard Rain, recorded live at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado, you can hear another Dylan fan yell the same thing. On the track Oh, Sister – right before Dylan starts to play – the crowd is riled up and yelling requests. You can hear, in the brief silence when everyone shuts-up, one asshole yell ‘Lay Lady Lay’ – exactly at the wrong time, exactly when Dylan would hear him.
Joshua Dalledonne is a theatre and live performance producer and artist. He’s currently developing a new programming portfolio at Arts Commons focused on making space for underserved voices and frankly, just more, different – everything. Previous producing gigs include stints with the Calgary International Film Festival, the International Festival of Animated Objects, One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo, Alberta Theatre Projects and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He’s a struggling French speaker, avid skier and snowboarder, and is picky when it comes to coffee.