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Compagnie Marie Chouinard

January 18, 2015

Gymnopédies, Henri Michaux : Mouvements

Reviewed January 17, 2015

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

Carol Prieur and Mariusz Ostrowski in Gymnopédies, Photograph by Sylvie-Ann Paré

Carol Prieur and Mariusz Ostrowski in Gymnopédies, Photograph by Sylvie-Ann Paré

Veteran Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard, a unique artistic voice in this country and abroad, brought two very different works to the National Arts Centre Theatre stage Saturday. Gymnopédies was a grand opening work for the evening, showcasing Chouinard’s original and bold imagination in creating dance that has something to say.

The 40-minute work begins with a solo dancer creeping across the stage, her fingers curling in anticipation, until she reaches a grand piano stage left. There she brings the music of modernist French composer Érik Satie to life. She is one of many of the dancers to play the instrument, which is covered tightly in storage cloth – apparently the dancers worked daily with a piano teacher to learn the pieces. They performed well, caressing the instrument or, in one case, standing on tiptoes on the bench and bending down in an exaggerated extended line to tickle the ivories.

The piano, the music and the dancers’ relationships to it and each other are paramount in this work. Satie’s live-performed score brings the dance piece to life as the 11 male and female dancers display blatantly elemental and sexual relationships.

In the first of a few vignettes, male-female pairs of dancers emerge naked from beneath storage cloths placed in opposition to the grand piano. They hold hands and walk slowly towards the back of the stage, where they disappear through a crack in the backdrop. The whole scene suggests we are outside observers to a paradisiacal game at play.

Whether the energetic and dynamic dancers are performing duets or in groups of four or as a whole company, there is an overall image of posed and coordinated harmony. The seduction, the surrender and the intimacy between the dancers are interwoven with a weird hyperbolic comedy, which features the dancers donning red noses and wide grins. This juxtaposition of theme is somewhat confusing, albeit entertaining.

I did notice a few people leave the auditorium when one pair of dancers began making out in the laps of audience members, who laughed – perhaps uncomfortably — as the couple cavorted and giggled and fondled each other on top of the taken-by-surprise observers.

In typical Chouinard style, the curtain drops suddenly in the middle of a movement, but then rises again and the performance continues.

Chouinard has worked with fashion/costume designer Liz Vandal to create a neutral but sensual palette for the dancers in Gymnopédies. Alain Lortie’s subtle lighting creates moods that range from stark contrast to sensual warmth.

The second piece of the evening, Henri Michaux : Mouvements, is inspired entirely by Michaux’s 64-page book of India-ink drawings, a 15-page poem and an afterword. The dancers, dressed in black, “copy” the ink blots by interpreting the drawings against a plain white backdrop.

It’s a fascinating concept, but becomes quickly tedious after some dozen “pages” of ink blots have been “danced” by the performers, against a grating industrial musical score created by Louis Dufort. The result diminishes the art and does nothing for the dance. The ear-splitting, unpoetic accompaniment is only distracting.

The saving grace to this work is the finale, when the ink drawings reverse into white splotches on a dark stage, and a strobe light bathes the dancers in a magical projection as they speed up the pace.

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From → Contemporary

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