Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard has an astonishing imagination. Her dance-theatre spectacles are always surprising, which makes them a grand adventure for the viewer.
Chouinard approaches a project through musings. She takes on a concept, then proceeds to choreographically ruminate on that subject by examining the idea from angles both logical and contrary. The Golden Mean (Live), which she created for the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, is quintessential Chouinard.
In mathematical terms, the golden mean is a ratio that represents balance, harmony and beauty. It is, in an aesthetic sense, things in perfect proportion.
Over the centuries, the golden mean was applied to human behaviour. For example, during the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment (1600 to 1800), the golden mean meant rational thought and nothing in excess. Behaviour extremes were viewed as lack of control, and thus, an example of bad taste.
So how does Chouinard reflect on the golden mean? She presents aliens from, in her words, “a strange yet friendly future.” These beings, gifted with acute sensory perception, are able to pick up human thought processes and act them out for us, allowing us to see a representation of our own behaviour. Moreover, these beings are able to riff on how these behaviour patterns may mutate into other possibilities that go to extremes.
These beings are gentle, delicate creatures. Sporting short blond hair and silver face masks, they look like androgynous nymphs and shepherds from Greek mythology. Costume designer Liz Vandal has clothed them in pastel orange diaphanous shirts and transparent fringed leggings.
Chouinard and Guillaume Lord’s set design includes five narrow rectangular screens, heavy stand lamps that the creatures use as spotlights to focus on particular moments, and a curved ramp that runs into the audience.
The most delightful use of the ramp is as a viewing station. The creatures sit on it, crammed together facing the stage, as the livecam inputs their images on the narrow screens. Their face masks seem to express wonder as these creatures watch their fellows mimic us.
The other main element is real-life face masks designed by Chouinard herself. These go over the tight-fitting silver masks, and show how in tune these creatures are with our world. For example, near the beginning they all wear Stephen Harper’s face, and their awkward physical antics – expressing narcissism and preening power – are hilarious.
At other times in the show, the masks are of elderly ladies and gentlemen, bemused or horrified by the behaviour of the young. Chouinard’s final image has her 10 dancers completely naked wearing the faces of adorable babies, as they take tiny tentative steps toward their future. It could be both a hopeful or tragic ending.
Composer Louis Dufort’s original score is a cunning collection of percussion beats, saxophone blasts, religious-sounding choral music, and a jumble of overlapping dialogue. The latter is clearly a manifestation of the creatures picking up all our thoughts at the same time.
The choreographic staple in this piece is a prance, almost akin to horses in dressage. Arms outstretched, hands gently flicking and fluttering, the creatures move on tiptoe, gracefully raising each leg high with bent knees. Their whole demeanour seems to suggest marvel and curiosity, and throughout the piece, they revert to this movement pattern to remind us who they really are.
Chouinard has titled the piece The Golden Mean (Live), and the last word is critical. The term itself may stand for perfection, harmony, and balance in the abstract, but in Chouinard’s provocative and real world, the human condition is anything but serene.