Performance Review: Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Visiting dance troupe brings nudity to the stage at Williams Center for the Arts
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 19:03
Sex, breasts, sweat, penis envy. Domination, subjugation, rejection. This isn’t a post-Milo’s rendezvous. It’s the ballet.
Marie Chouinard and her company put on a show you don’t want to talk about because you want to keep the experience to yourself, to protect it. It strips you down, seduces you, angers and intimidates you, and then is suddenly gone.
It’s not a pleasant feeling, but something that you inexplicably want to preserve.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard is a French-Canadian dance troupe, and their performance Wednesday at the Williams Center did not shy away from nudity. The program included 24 Preludes by Chopin and Stravinksy’s The Rite of Spring.
The tone was set within the first few seconds. The curtain rose and presented a dancer posing as a crazed, deranged bird—an avian sex fiend crossed with a contortionist— that drew the other dancers to life in a fury of twists and splits. Soon, the silence was cut with a live playing of Chopin’s 24 preludes.
For the first hour, the audience carefully tried to follow a series of choreographed vignettes with themes ranging from awakening (sexual, of course), loneliness, exclusion, and internal turmoil.
There were several moments of childlike exploration that were unapologetically tainted by the dancers’ costumes (black loincloths for the men, black sheer tops with thin strips of tape across the breasts and crotch for the women), the surrounding story arcs of lust and the pure joy of it.
The moments of blatant sex, lust, and female domination had several of the older members of the audience grunting and shifting in their seats. The choreography transformed the dancers into actors and their dancing into a theater of the sublime and subliminal.
Parts of their bodies seemed to move independently from each other, not taking orders from the brain but from a higher power. The most visceral aspect of the first act were the actors audibly panting onstage,whether with exhaustion or with desire.
Everyone was chasing something, whether it was a man chasing a woman, awakening, or abandonment. The final moments of the act concluded in a sad demonstration of the desperation and need in human lives.
The mood broke at intermission. “I don’t know if there was something to get, but I liked it,” the girl sitting in front of me said. Her friend rolled her eyes.
The second act, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, immediately pounced onto the audience. The difference between the female and male dancers had been erased as nudity arrived: all the female dancers, now topless, had changed into the loincloths the males had donned during the first act.
However, all the performers were so muscular and emaciated it was almost impossible to tell female from male anyway. Androgyny consumed the stage, and after about three minutes, I gave up trying to decipher the deeper themes behind the movements, realizing it was all a physical communication and union with music.
As the music itself swelled, the dancing became violent and aggressive. The dancers twisted themselves into grotesque, mutated shapes while maintaining a delicate harmony with the music.
Two women seemed to make love onstage while covered with sets of phallic spikes. Men shopped their own spikes around, thrusting. Humanity and the wild intersected. Sex, power, and identity emerged as the act’s three visual themes. The dancers proved the three concepts are inexorably linked.
Arms became indistinguishable from legs. A sense of danger was aroused by one dancer pounding his or her foot on the floor. I was in a dream. A violent, surreal dream that I wasn’t supposed to be trespassing in, where something was going terribly wrong.
And then it was over.
The whole night had been a seamless representation of how individuals can work independently, blending into one indistinguishable unit. It was breathtakingly erotic and terrifying at the same time.
The use of the negative space was spectacular as was the lighting and the sound. I left flushed, yet drained.
Bravo, Williams Center.