When Feathers Fly


From her choreographic beginnings as a soloist in 1978, Montreal’s Marie Chouinard has defined herself as an explorer in the regions of the body and its desires. Yet the images she creates—however primal, however shocking—emerge as meticulously designed. Who could forget her Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, in which—dappled, horned, and two-dimensional, like Vaslav Nijinsky in his 1913 encounter with Debussy’s music—she repeatedly thrust a third horn (a strapped-on penis) into light beams that fled like nymphs.

Since retiring as a dancer in 1990 and concentrating on group works, she has carried the atavistic into the tribal. Even in a quite delicate and lovely formal piece, 24 Preludes by Chopin (1999), the movement could be considered at odds with the rather harshly recorded piano pieces that accompany it. In Chouinard’s body language, angles predominate. Her splendid dancers make you aware of jutting hips, elbows, and knees, of heads craning, of spines arched into swayback stances, of fingers pressed together into mitten hands. We hear the “Raindrop” prelude and see dancers in dark bathing-suit-like costumes by Vandal that bare their legs, their hair erupting in mohawks and braided complications. Their meticulous lines and other formations that suggest marches and races never melt into the music, even though some passages are playful (like David Rancourt’s brief, bounding solo or festive encounters with a ball) and some (like Chi Long’s moment in the spotlight) build into rippling ecstasy. In one longer solo, the remarkable longtime Chouinard dancer Carol Prieur softly intones solfeggio, while pushing her body into crannies of space. She becomes increasingly sad, even stops sometimes, while others come and go and do their dancing. Finally two women help her walk away.

If the choreography (shaped and colored by Axel Morgenthaler’s beautiful, changeable lighting) accommodates itself to the personal tone—the playfulness, sorrowing, and yearning—of this Romantic music, the 2000 Le Cri du Monde, to an original score by Louis Dufort—with its mix of roaring, squalling, ringing sounds and occasional voices—digs into a darker world. Morgenthaler’s lighting is more drastic. Here the physical distortions lend themselves to curious events. Hands look like paws. Only tiny black nipple covers hide the female dancers’ breasts. Some of the images suggest electrical energy. Tall James Viveiros undulates while another man, standing still, holds his stiff hand; people carry Viveiros away, then return him, so he can stick his hand back into that grip. People walk to various spots and begin new, jerky activities as if these were being enforced by the terrain of the moment. Two women connect, fingertips to fingertips, and begin wiggling their hands. A man and a woman thrust their open mouths at each other and shake their heads. Laughter erupts. Julio Cesar Hong, twisted and crouched down, is led away as if he were an injured monkey. People are dragged, lifted. Two men appear to hoist Prieur by the neck as she embarks on a solo with long, bizarre balances.

These are two extremely accomplished pieces—products of a fully matured choreographic imagination.

“If anyone is allergic to down feathers, please advise the house manager,” warns a sign posted on the performance-space door at WAX, alerting those waiting to see Tami Stronach’s Contain Yourself, Darling. Prudent. Not only do a few feathers drift from the trimmings on the four dancers’ black and/or white costumes, but Lindsey Dietz Marchant coughs one up, and later emerges from the claw-footed bathtub where she hangs out and shakes from the long sleeves of her coat a pile of feathers that subsequent activity churns into a snowstorm.

The feathers, the gloves that are sometimes part of Kelly Harrison’s costumes, and the occasional chicken-squat walk are stylistic choices as much as Harrison’s irregularly shaped hanging panels that show blue sky and clouds, the tub on its pedestal, and a black tub looking as if it were starting to grow out of one wall. Contain Yourself, Darling isn’t about chickens; it’s about control and the lack of it and how we choose to reveal ourselves to others. Feathers, like manners, shield and hide, or, if shed, leave us plucked bare.

Stronach constructs her kookily elegant and imaginative piece with care. Marchant’s feather tantrum refers back to Stronach’s initial solo before partially opened curtains (and a later duet version for the choreographer and Monica Bill Barnes). In place, Stronach begins by shaking one hand and builds a composition of twisting and shaking to the Gypsy music (by Taraf de Haidouks) that Karinne Keithley has designed into her sound score. In one of the 14 brief sections, Kate Weare performs a smooth solo mostly on the floor, carefully pressing her hips up and pivoting on her shoulders and feet in a curious way that looks as if she’s segmenting her body. Later, others join her in repeats.

The copycatting and reiterating—in weighted, slightly gawky, never ordinary movement—sometimes lead to confrontations, but not nasty ones. In one duet, Stronach rocks Weare violently, and they yank each other along. But when they’re done, one gives the other a lot of little appeasing kisses. During the final trio, to hymn-like chords by Keithley, Marchant sinks out of sight into her tub, rises, sinks, and finishes by sitting on the edge. Washed clean?

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