A man stands facing us while a woman kisses him. A head mic amplifies the smacking of her lips, her mms of relish as she attacks his shoulder, arms, armpit, foot. The man’s face never changes expression.
Montreal-based choreographer Marie Chouinard is a master at delineating desire. In her 2003 Chorale, as in her 2000 Le Cri du Monde (seen here two years ago), we view her company as a tribe of dancers re-embodying primal urges. They walk on purposefully for each small section, take their places, and allow their inner animals to emerge, almost as if fulfilling ritual requirements. Their getups also identify them as a society. The four women wear black Louise-Brooks wigs and brief, variously patterned black-and-flesh outfits by Vandal that hint at corset lacing. Their eyelids are red. The three men wear solid black. Animalistic vignettes—Isabelle Poirier licking down James Viveiros as if she were a big dog, Carla Maruca sitting on her haunches to bark at the moon (a wheeled-on spotlight), Kirsten Anderson executing crazed passés while crowing like a rooster, four seated women flapping their bent legs like butterfly wings as men whisper in their ears and ratchet up their speed—are matched by more formal passages. A group may assemble to stomp the ground and chant “Ho” in fierce rhythms, or to line up in profiled poses that bring to mind an Egyptian frieze.
Their vocal noises, abetted by Louis Dufour’s score, are as elemental as breathing, as whimsical as individual raptures. Chouinard’s distinctive movement style molds the dancers’ bodies into extreme positions—backs swayed, hips jutting out, hands clawing, feet flexing, legs turning in and out, spines undulating, necks craning. Sometimes, essaying all these actions at once, the performers look both naive and sophisticated—gawky children experimenting; creatures who constantly, restlessly modify the relationship between skin and what lies beneath.
Their behavior is often erotic but never reckless or allowed to slip out of control. At one point, the amazing, sinuous Carol Prieur (10 years in the company) quickly strips, looks hopefully at us, then shyly grabs her clothes and hustles away.
I find them all (including Mark Eden-Towle, Andrea Keevil, Chi Long, Lucie Mongrain, and David Rancourt) touching, funny—even silly—and quite beautiful.
Before Chouinard formed her company in 1990, she was a striking, often transgressive solo artist. Her 2001 Étude for Mongrain is a stunning achievement, both for the choreographer and the performer (Rancourt also dances the work). As the work begins Mongrain appears to be consulting with a stagehand, supervising the arrival of two immense speakers. She herself pushes a large trunk into the wings. But the “stagehand” has a subtler controlling role. He (Viveiros) lifts Mongrain as if she were a baby and sets her down cross-legged on a bright blue floor. Before he leaves, he tosses several silver balls across the stage; the sounds they make hitting the blue area (eight mics beneath it) incite a deep rumbling in Dufour’s score.
Mongrain wears black shorts, a dark blue top, and silver-edged tap shoes; a silver horn projects from the back of her head. The 35-minute solo is a kind of ordeal—a journey in which the performer tests her environment and her mettle in a variety of ways. She begins quietly, stroking the sonorous floor with one foot. It becomes clear that sometimes the noises she makes are repeated elements in a live mix, while at other times they (and maybe certain gestures) trigger particular pre-recorded sound banks. She may lift one leg high and, as she stamps it down, unleash a high whine. She may bring her arms down forcefully and bring on silence. Later, her scream becomes part of the score. In this piece, too, we see a body undulating, jolting as if straining not to come apart.
Mongrain is sensitive to all changes, reacting in occasional annoyance, registering fatigue. She steps off the floor and strides around it, once marking the next sequence in a corner. She attempts difficult feats. Stretching her clasped hands over her head, past the horn, and down her back (am I seeing things?), she bourrées oh so prettily, and for a second or two her angled arms become wings and she a demented ballet swan. She’s also a highly skilled tapper, but the routine she performs toward the end of the work maintains the illusion of a purposefully fractured body. Convulsive tap, with the feet firing out rhythms while the torso weaves its story.
At the end, Viveiros picks her up again and sits her down as before, but at the front of the blue floor. Before he goes, he tosses a handful of tiny balls across the stage. They instantly become the music. Mongrain sits, breathing heavily, as the lights dim. Will she have to begin again? Does that horn pick up signals from somehere? What is this ordeal, and who has ordained it? Perhaps the astounding dancer herself.