Montréal’s world famous Compagnie Marie Chouinard returns to Wesleyan (Feb. 6 & 7)

CFA Arts Administration Intern and DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones ’15 talks to dancer Lucy M. May of Compagnie Marie Chouinard about their upcoming performances at Wesleyan on Friday, February 6 and Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8pm.

I close the heavy door softly behind me and cautiously step forward into the dark theater. On stage a woman rehearses a solo. She is tall and slender and dances with startling grace. Her long limbs slice through the space, she stops suddenly, pirouettes. With each movement she communicates something—her whole body speaking, from her gesturing hands to her quick feet. She is fierce and beautiful, every cell of her body alive and articulate.

I have come to Hanover, New Hampshire as a Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow to see Montréal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard perform, and I have just walked into dress rehearsal. When the dance finishes, the lights come up in the theater and the company members gather on stage. They go over a few notes with the rehearsal director before heading back to their hotel to prepare for the night’s show. I can hardly wait for them to take the stage again.

Described by The New York Times as “a hurricane of unbridled imaginativeness,” Compagnie Marie Chouinard was founded by choreographer Marie Chouinard in 1990. Today the company tours all over the world.

The company first came to Wesleyan in September 2008 to perform the United States premiere of Orpheus and Eurydice. This weekend, they return to campus with the New England premiere of Gymnopédies (2013) and the Connecticut premiere of Henri Michaux: Mouvements (2005-2011).

Set to music by French composer and pianist Érik Satie, Gymnopédies began as an exploration of the duet form. “She knew she wanted to work with these erotic duets between two dancers,” says company member Lucy M. May. “That was really the first thing we did in the studio: improvise two-by-two, different couples.”

In the process of creating the work, Ms. Chouinard decided she wanted each dancer to learn Mr. Satie’s Gymnopédies and play it on the piano as part of the performance. Many of the dancers had never played the piano, but gradually, with lessons and practice, they all learned. In the finished work, the dancers take turns at the piano bench, their live music adding to the work’s curious sensuality.

Interprète/Dancer Lucy M. May performs "Henri Michaux: Mouvements." Photo by Marie Chouinard.
Interprète/Dancer Lucy M. May performs “Henri Michaux: Mouvements.” Photo by Marie Chouinard.

Henri Michaux: Mouvements began in 1980 when Ms. Chouinard came upon the book Mouvements (1951) by Belgian writer and artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984). Inspired by the book’s abstract ink drawings and 15-page poem, Ms. Chouinard decided to use it as a choreographic score.

“She brought all of the images into the studio,” says Ms. May. “We had photo copies of all the drawings, and some of them were hanging on clotheslines and others were in big piles of paper all around the place, and we spent a really intensive two weeks making all sorts of different compositions. We were exploring all the possibilities of what we were seeing.”

This literal translation of image into movement is augmented by costumes and set. Clothed head-to-toe in black, the dancers perform on a white floor against a white backdrop so that the stage becomes the book.

Mouvements was one of the works I saw performed at Dartmouth this past September. I was blown away. The dancers’ ability to recreate the ink drawings with their bodies is truly amazing—a dazzling exactitude.

“There’s a balance between a high level of demand—of precision and detail and rigor—and then this amazing amount of freedom,” says Ms. May of Ms. Chouinard’s work.

Indeed Ms. Chouinard’s choreography strikes me as simultaneously precise and reckless, raw, free. The dancers move with extreme clarity—so much of the choreography impossibly intricate, detailed, and fast—yet there is something of abandon in their performance, something intensely wild.

As I watched the performance that evening at Dartmouth, I was riveted by each dancer, each movement, each moment. My eyes did not drift once from the stage. My mind never wandered. I found myself fully immersed in the world of each dance.

They are strange worlds, exciting and new and daring.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Friday, February 6 and Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8pm
CFA Theater
$25 general public; $22 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students

Pre-performance talk by DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones ’15 on Friday, February 6, 2015 at 7:30pm in CFA Hall.

Dine/Dance/Discover on Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 5:30pm in Fayerweather Dance and Theater Studios—add $15 to your regular ticket price. Click here to purchase Dine/Dance/Discover online.

6 thoughts on “Montréal’s world famous Compagnie Marie Chouinard returns to Wesleyan (Feb. 6 & 7)”

  1. The first dance was very inventive and enjoyable. The emergence from and latter use of the drapes was wonderful. The music was dreamy and helped create an interesting mood. A little bit too much use of the clown noses, but overall a success.
    The first part of the second dance was also good – watching the dancers mirror and have a dialogue with the drawings was lovely. But once the music got painfully loud, it was a VERY unpleasant experience.
    That went on.
    And on.
    And on.
    And the pretentious, largely incoherent poem didn’t help – if the whole dance was supposed to grind our faces in how unpleasant the modern world can be and how ugly and stupid “modern art” can be, I guess it succeeded. But it was a real sour note to end the evening on.

  2. I bought tickets to this show after seeing the description in the Hartford Courant. I brought an older friend, 82 years old, and my daughter who is 20 and a college student. I am 56. All 3 of us were enthralled by the performance, the artistry, the unique perspective that Marie Chouinard brought to us in this production. We stayed after the performance to listen to the short talk as well.
    It was my first time to attend a Wesleyan performance, and my daughters first time as well. My friend, Anne Keane has been to Wesleyan performances many times and she shared the info on the show with me. I am looking forward to seeing more performances at Wesleyan, and so is my daughter. We are all three very interested in the Arts!
    I look forward to being on your mailing list in the future! The theatre is comfortable and the seats are great! The prices were wonderful and the quality of the show fantastic. Thank you!

  3. The performance was everything I had hoped and more. The theater itself is a work of art. To be able to see Compagnie Marie Chouinard perform is a very special treat. Most of their time is spent touring the world. We got to see them here. Thank you.

  4. The first part was original, creative, amusing, and filled with wonderful dancing — in short, GREAT!

    The second part was, IMHO, not very interesting, more “adolescent” in tone, accompanied by “music” which was both (experienced as) cacophonous and too loud. The poetry wasn’t very good, and was read in a 1950’s “Howl” style, nor did it add to the occasion.

  5. Gymnopedies was so much fun. I couldn’t believe it when two of the dancers came out into the audience and sat in my and my husband’s laps and pretended to be audience members. It was hilarious. The piece was both comic and moving and an entirely coherent mixture of vignettes.

    Henri Michaux gave me more hesitation, because I was afraid that the concept would quickly run out of steam. How can an interpretation of ink drawing be interesting for more than a few iterations? Initially, it seemed like this assessment would be accurate, but soon the speed picked up, as did the intensity when groups of dancers combined to interpret complicated symbols or groups of splotches. It was like the random movements of atoms, which would suddenly lock in a stable configuration. When that idea ran its course, the performance ramped up another notch with an intense strobe-light performance. A simple idea was successfully extended into a 40-minute piece through careful augmentation of expectations.

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