Compagnie Marie Chouinard at the Joyce Theater

November 14th, 2013

Known for her inventive vision and vigorous physicality, Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard presented New York audiences with an evening of two highly provocative works this fall season at the Joyce Theater.

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Photo Credit: Marie Chouinard

The first work, Mouvements, was inspired by the book of the same name created by the French poet, writer and painter Henri Michaux. Michaux’s 64-page book consists of India-ink drawings, a 15-page poem and an afterword. Ms. Chouinard transformed the images from the book into a 35-minute non-stop series of body configurations. One by one the drawings were projected on a screen at the back of the stage while the dancers in black tops and tights emulated the images on a white stage. The first drawing on the screen looked like a bird-like figure with its beak open and tail dangling; a dancer standing in profile in a pointe tendu extended her hands firmly into a beak-like shape in front of her face to imitate the image. With each successive image this routine continued, first with a single dancer, then more dancers rushing in in pairs, trios and eventually the whole company joining in as the music, composed by Louis Dufort, grew increasingly intense, physical and loud.

The drawings themselves resembled ancient oriental calligraphy; among other things, they could be abstract portrayals of birds, frogs, horses, crickets, spiders, unknown living creatures and human emotional postures expressing anger, nervousness, agitation and joy. The dancers squat, curl, arch, throb, crawl, crouch; they mold themselves into animal-like shapes and movements.In an abrupt switch, the stage and background suddenly turned dark and the drawings began appearing in white. The dancers, men and women alike, ran on stage with their bare chests exposed, in solos, duos and trios to continue the abstract shapes under a pulsating strobe light. A man’s voice is heard, as if Michaux was present. As the voice recited the afterword, the ever-changing human figures continued throbbing in front of our eyes.

The evening then switched to a beautiful rustic mansion-like setting designed by Guillaume Lord and Ms. Chouinard. Gymnopédies brought out human erotic behavior with utmost ecstasy and poetry. Accompanied by a composition of operatic and street soundscape, a woman in a black underdress entered from downstage. She mildly descended into a split, rocking forward and back, forward and back; she then walked to a waiting piano to play Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies. Like butterflies emerging from their silky cocoons, six dancers that were once wrapped under white fabric, standing across the stage from the piano, unveiled themselves and revealed their naked bodies one after the other; the six then paired into three couples, joining hands and walking up and through a half dangling white backdrop until they were out of sight.

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Photo Credit: Andrea Mohin

Several dancers took turns playing the score, and each leading couple expressed a variety of physical attractions and sexual interpretations. One woman wore black pointe shoes; her movements were neither classical nor contemporary–with each step she hardly stayed on pointe for more than two seconds, but she was constantly grasping at her partner’s arms as if the action of screwing down into the shoes pushed her beyond ecstasy. Another couple in intense physical contact grabbed and pulled each other with aggressive passion. The guy threw the girl around his body and held her in front of his chest facing the audience; then his hand reached up to wrap around her pubic bone. From there, he tossed her into another vigorous embrace.

Midway through these sexual interactions, Ms. Chouinard sprinkled in an interval of subtle humor. Five female dancers posed with their backs to the audience; just as I was expecting to see another sexual interplay, I saw twinkling eyes and red noses. Chic and seductive, they strode along, capturing the attention of their male counterparts.

Satie’s music lingered on as the dancers enclosed themselves in cocoons once again. Like giant sculptures, they then glided across to upstage, leaving behind a single unclothed couple. The lone couple started to dance as if Satie’s sentimental lines were transformed into physical form, whereas the sexual intensity was now perceived through the pounding action of the piano keys.

Leaving the theater, I wondered if living in a technological environment can lead us to neglect the full function of the human body. Ms. Chouinard’s work transfers a voluminous range of movements, and at the same time dissects human motion into its most raw state, in which we crawl, sprawl, dart, leap, throb; the possibilities are endless. After all, we are simply animals.