Marie Chouinard streteches the bounds of musicality
When the cast howled together like a pack of wolves crying to a klieg light on a stand, I sensed Compagnie Marie Chouinard is about getting to the primal. Their season opened at the Joyce December 13 with two New York premieres that stretch musicality to outer bounds, as did their “24 Preludes” at Fall for Dance. The Canadian choreographer Chouinard links movements with sounds—including those outside of dance and music—with great facility and sophistication, approaching the primal and musicality anew.
First on the program is a solo performed by Lucie Mongrain called “Etude no.1.” She wears shoes with silvery steel toes and heels; a chrome-colored cone is set back on her head to resemble neither a horn nor hat. James Viveiros rolls chrome balls onto a large, blue amplified platform. Louis Dufort’s music includes “real time processed sound” like amplified rond de jambe. Mongrain’s 35- minute keyed performance never fails to hold our interest for as long as she endures, with movement that draws from boxing, swimming, tapping, and even a bit of dying swan.
In the 2003 “Chorale” the yoga lion pose is a major motif. This is a pose on all fours with the back arched, butt raised, head thrown back, tongue out, and breath thrust preferably with a growl. Its difficulty stems in part from the fact that we like to be beautiful and admired, and to see beauty and admire it—but Chouinard has other plans for us. Instead we feel the release in watching a body configured to spew bodily toxins.
In “Chorale,” Dufort’s music is synched with vocals by Chouinard and her dancers. Fast-paced and very energetic movement parodies everything from dance to sex to party conversation. The women teeter on tiptoes, cling ferociously to a male, or pine and howl at the electric moon. In two solos, a woman’s elbows or knees are strapped together. They shake limbs uncontrollably or reel in post-orgasmic delirium. Carol Prieur undresses, unbinding the strip that covers her nipples and removing her pants, then rushes embarrassed into the wings in a somewhat sad end to her valiant performance. In “Chorale,” women’s lot isn’t enviable, though they look game in an animalistic fashion.
The men by contrast appear invincible, their bodies built and their dancing awe-inspiring. The movement they’re given brings out beauty. Somehow they capture the lion’s majesty. The 10 men and women imagine an early civilization caravan when pairs cart each other off wheelbarrow style, front ends undulating in the lion pose. Tongues are put to use for licking the skin, arms, face of a partner; they are counterparts to the undulation.
Chouinard lays ballet bare to its sexual framework with her pas de deux in which a male reaches right to the crux, lifting the female by her crotch while her legs spread and quiver. Can sensuality exist without joy? Minimally covered in Liz Vandal’s ‘90s era steely black rubber-and-lace look, a trio of cool, simpering, rail-thin females with bobbed black hair exemplify Chouinard’s fashionable (of a time) groupings, and her fastidious choreographic use of sameness or reiteration.
The cat theme culminates in a raucous assembly of incomprehensible song and feline dancing that momentarily recalls or perhaps parodies “Cats.” The cast bounces up and down like the animated South Park kids. The nonsensical vocals never amount to a message, or satisfy as music. Bits of beautiful opera emerge toward the end, but overall the movement and sound achieve the kind of symbiosis that other choreographers never dreamed of.
The piece looks atavistic, and idiosyncratic the way Paul Taylor’s “Runes” does. The publicity photos recall Kara Walker’s silhouettes of figures in exaggerated poses and in the flesh they don’t disappoint. The bodies are imbued with given identity.
One audience member in the departing crowd commented, “There was nothing pleasant in that.” In this mirror, and in Axel Morgenthaler’s superb lighting, we find not the fairest but the true.