Among the big names presenting their works at Tanz im August in Berlin is the Canadian Compagnie Marie Chouinard. Known for her interest in body and body distortion – for one dance the performers wore pointe shoes and crutches together with a sort of bondage-like costume – Chouinard's works contrast lightness and provocatory explosiveness, which appeals to the more traditional contemporary dance lovers but also to the ‘darker’ more experimental crowd.

In celebration of her company 25th anniversary, the multi-faceted and multi-awarded interdisciplinary artist presents two of the choreographer's most recent works: Soft Virtuosity, still humid, on the edge (2015) and HENRI MICHAUX: MOVEMENTS (2011).

Through distorted walks, grimaces and video projections, the evening opener, a Colours International Dance Festival (Stuttgart) coproduction (also supported by ImPuls Tanz International Dance Festival - Vienna), looks at the body in details. A cryptic work interspersed with grotesque, funny and almost divine images, it clearly incorporates Chouinard’s experience as a video-artist. Scenes of disabled/distorted bodies (the politics of which I am not discussing within this article) are portrayed together with ninja-like moves of ten dancers who childishly hide their faces in their blue and black t-shirts. Soon afterwards a same-sex couple rotate on a pottery disk in an endless Shiva and Parvati-like embrace. Their multiplied image projected behind them conferred them a technological-new age ‘depth’ missing in the original sculptures. Then a solo dancer duets with her slightly delayed and slowed down bigger projected self. The use of video does not only allow Chouinard to intensify the gaze of the audience but it also literally project its prospective on the dance, as when the dancers walk laterally on stage and are filmed frontally. The resulting sea of faces thus projected slightly recalls Bill Viola’s installation Observance (2002). Still, most prominent in the dance, and also recalling Viola, is a tableau vivant sequence. As fluid material the dancers erupt out from the side wings forming a clump. Their slow movements are projected panoramically in the background. The filtered reality of the deliberated details  — the dancers’ facial expression and hands — highlights the politics of the camera lens by framing infinite potential stories, at times heroic or more grotesque depending on Louis Dufort’s music, yet without developing one. Finally, as a table of content, all the pseudo ninja virtuosity and the study of grimaces — that reminded me of the Viennese eccentric baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736 – 1783) — are rewound back to their start.

The second work is based on a book by the Belgian poet Henri Michaux, published in 1951. In this dance Mario Giacometti’s figures meet cave paintings on an industrial metal soundtrack. At the back of the stage the empty pages of an open book are projected. One by one first, and then in couples or small groups, the ten dancers clad in black come on stage and imitate the forms or the motions of the hieroglyphic figures projected on the white pages. On a virtual book on the side one can see how many drawings have been already done. These are Michaux’s mescaline-induced abstract watercolor and ink drawings that accompany a 15 pages long lyrical poem. The dance is akin to those mime games you play to guess a word or the title of a film as one is taken to see how the dancers will interpret what looks like stains or cave drawings. In a way it is as if the dancers would take a Rorschach test: they would not answer through words but via bodily images. When one dancer crawls under the dance carpet reciting Michaux’ poem, because of the already explosive movements and the music, the association with the heavy metal scene is complete. In this dance, which felt more cohesive than the previous one, there are many funny moments. Instead of being in a theatre, one could imagine being in a rehearsal space with the dancers fooling around. The piece ends on the words of Michaux’s postscript with the dancers almost naked improvising under stroboscopic lights with no apparent relation to the signs being reproduced next to them. Michaux, who had invited artists to answer to his work, would most probably be happy with Chouinard’s answer. This “choreo-graphic delight” was also realized with the support of ImPuls Tanz.

In general, even if the body was the object of enquiry, the two dances felt more like abstract reasonings than they suggested emotional connectedness. In the first, the expressivity of Chouinard’s ninja dancers brought about an analysis of our quick, emotional changes, finding beauty in ugliness. Whereas, the second work highlighted quickly the creative intuition of her jesters who, fairies-like, seemed to come out of the page. The real common denominator of Chouinard’s two works is their use of other media – video-projections, drawings and poetry – to create a dialogue between, and possibly another perspective on, dance and on the other art forms. 

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