Carol Prieur in an excerpt from “The Golden Mean (Live)” by Marie Chouinard. Photograph by Sylvie-Ann Paré

Chouinard, Velocity and Vigour

Marie Chouinard retrospective, “Radical Vitality, Solos and Duets”

Performance
Compagnie Marie Chouinard: “Radical Vitality, Solos and Duets”
Place
Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, Toronto, Ontario, February 5, 2020
Words
Josephine Minhinnett

After premiering “Radical Vitality, Solos and Duets” at the Venice Biennale in 2018 and touring it to festivals across Canada and Europe, Compagnie Marie Chouinard came back to a familiar venue at Canadian Stage in Toronto and took up place in the inaugural season for new artistic director Brendan Healy.

As a perfect hybrid of contemporary dance and theatre that continues Canadian Stage’s vision for boundary-breaking programming, “Radical Vitality, Solos and Duets” is an exhilarating compilation of standalone pieces and excerpts culled from Marie Chouinard’s choreographic output over the past forty years. Performed exquisitely by eleven dancers, many of whom are recent additions to the company, the program propels the audience through a surreal repertoire of ballet parody, contorted bodies, live video, vocal outbursts, bucket, and bell.

Among the 24 excerpts, the earliest is “Petite Danse Sans Nom” (1980) which Chouinard created just two years after her choreographic debut. Through this now infamous solo in which a dancer drinks a glass of water and urinates into a metal bucket, it becomes clear that Chouinard has been creating performance art as much as dance works since her earliest days as a professional choreographer.

Although the urination solo elicits laughter from the audience (it’s rather hard to tell if it’s out of subversive pleasure or awkwardness at seeing a private bodily function on view), Sayer Mansfield’s stoic performance conveys a zen quality marked by the mind-and-muscular control needed for this simple physiological act. Chouinard has described the piece as a “haiku”—and it gets to the heart of “Radical Vitality, Solos and Duets.” With the concentrated force of just one or two bodies moving in space, Chouinard offers us the most essential version of her observations of the world and the human condition.

Distilling expressive force means that several of the pieces have been significantly condensed and remade. To name a few instances, “Under the Spotlight” (from “Étude Poignante,” 1998), in which a hanging lamp threateningly lowers onto a dancer, was originally a longer meditation with more of the same peacock-like stature, and  “Last Part” (from “Étude No. 1,” 2001) has been transformed  from a 35 to 13 minute steel-dance solo. Not to imply that Chouinard is derivative in any way; it is impressive how she is not overly precious about her work, and with honed vision continues to reinvent earlier repertoire.

Catherine Dagenais-Savard and Sacha Ouellette-Deguire in “Crying-Laughing Duet” from “The Golden Mean.” Photograph by Sylvie-Ann Paré

The most captivating excerpts of the evening came from the 2010 full-length work “The Golden Mean (Live).” Carol Prieur delivered a particularly moving performance in “Solo and 4 Heads” as she conveyed the unravelling of a mind with potent emotion and raw intuition. “The Ladies Crossing” and “Finale” were both audience favourites that brought laughs and cheers on opening night.

Other highlights included Chouinard’s most recent creation “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” (2020), sensitively danced by Adrian W.S. Batt and Valerie Galluccio; what should have been an awkward pas de deux on pointe between a tall woman and her shorter partner, was made even more tender by the fact. It was equally engrossing to watch Motrya Kozbur plying her face like dough on live camera in “Visages” (2001-2018) and Scott McCabe’s solo from “Le Cri Du Monde” (2000) where his body seems to become a machine channelling audio frequency.

Many of the solos and duets reach their full effect to the music of Chouinard’s long-time collaborator Louis Dufort. Paired with movement, Dufort’s brilliant percussive scores gain a kinetic energy and presence on stage, causing dancers’ to contort from without and within. This was especially the case in the solo “Last Part” where a blue rectangle of light seemed to contain both Prieur and her opponent of sound.

As the program charged on without pause through an ambitious number of excerpts, I had the odd sensation of watching a series of GIFs or video clips—each one funnier, sweeter, and more disturbing than the last. While this momentum allowed for humorous moments to shine, like Clémentine Schindler’s kissing ruckus in “Love Attack #2” (from “Chorale,” 2003) or Jossua Collin Dufour’s and Celeste Robbins’s playful “Ouch! Duet” (from “bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS,” 2005), I didn’t get the same sense of satisfaction as watching a full-length work. It was perhaps the only shortcoming of the program; there was hardly time to lose oneself in the more spectacular and other-worldly qualities of Chouinard’s productions before the next clip began.

Still, in gestures past and present with a total vision for props, set design, costume and sound, Chouinard deeply accesses energies of human, supernatural, and ecological proportion—the full spectrum of her forty-year exploration. 

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