When dance critic Edwin Denby wrote, “There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good,” he might have been talking about artists such as Marie Chouinard. Chouinard, a bona fide cultural icon, has been creating irreverent contemporary dance theatre for more than 40 years and is currently the director of dance at Venice Biennale. On Wednesday, a retrospective of her work, Radical Vitality: Solos and Duets opened at the Bluma Appel Theatre, co-presented by Canadian Stage and TO Live. With 25 pieces, the program was a touch fragmentary and not all were best-ofs; however, in the mix were gems, strange and delightful, and full cathartic release.
From peeing in a bucket in a low second-position squat (stage fright be gone) to manipulating the face into as many contortions as possible, does anyone show off the human body like Chouinard? In Love Attack #2, a woman passionately kisses the arms of, adores the toes of and flings herself around a groaning man. Love attack could be a theme, although not always one-sided. Wild Goose Duet has a man and woman perform a kind of glorious avian mating dance, with swanning arms and spinal flexions in unison.
The Crying-Laughing Duet might have had you doing a bit of both. Two dancers revel in torturing each other, laughing or howling in turn. The punishment then becomes self-inflicted – Sayer Mansfield performs a few balletic tendus and yogic poses through screams of distress. Priceless. Dance itself, particularly ballet, is the butt of a few jokes; a classic tall woman on pointe with shorter man duet perhaps not landing as strongly as it once might have. The more imaginative scenario, Last Part, saw dancer Carol Prieur run the gamut from tapping to a “dying swan” variation, bursting into wild releases and stormy solos, obliterating proscribed shapes and expectations.
The creepier vignettes also struck a chord. No Arms Solo featured an innocent (the talented Scott McCabe) delighting in snowfall only to be descended upon by the troupe wearing oversized face masks of senior citizens that bobbled unnervingly with their senile gyrations. Midsommar eat your heart out. I’m not sure the face-mask meme deserved a reprise, but nonetheless the finale saw all 10 dancers naked save cardboard baby-face masks, giving their best impression of a group of, well, babies. Life is movement after all, but this one was for straight-up giggles.
The evening also gave ample opportunity to see the dancers in Chouinard’s signature movement style, centring on spasmodic movement, rippling torsos, violent head shaking and open-mouthed screams to rival Munch. In Conversation had a pair of commentators dancing to their rapid-fire words in a close, staccato duet. A duet only for hands was projected live onto the screen, remarkably intimate and decidedly human. Across the spectrum of work was essentially a feeling of delighting in being alive, in the hits and misses, the tragic, comic and especially the weird. Vive la Compagnie Marie Chouinard.
Radical Vitality: Solos and Duets by Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Bluma Appel Theatre, Feb. 5 to Feb. 8
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