Compagnie Marie Chouinard

"24 Preludes by Chopin" and "Le Cri du Monde"

The Place, London
March 26, 2002
By Lootie Bibby

Marie Chouinard obviously has something of a cult following. With her extraordinary blend of sharp witted, virtuoso choreography, frank and indignant politics, chaotic musicality and teasing voyeurism, I can see why. Her company of ten dancers, as physically sleek, strong and athletic as they were emotionally expressive and vulnerable, made the work fly, capturing the audience in a trance that teetered on the edge of delight and desperation. The two works, 24 Preludes by Chopin and Le Cri du Monde, presented at The Place Theatre on Tuesday 26th March 2002, were emotionally as well as intellectually challenging: like a lover we know we must free ourselves from in order to survive, the evening left us simultaneously satiated and yearning for more, clear in the knowledge that such intensity is unsustainable and risks pushing us over the edge.

Preludes opened the programme. It is a brilliant piece, with a clever title. To name something as a 'prelude' immediately poses the question of parametres: what does a 'pre-lude' pre-cede or indeed pre-scribe? Can it be complete in itself, or can it only exist with reference to something outside of itself? Chouinard toys with these questions, in a series of short powerful scenes, hung together by Chopin's echoing piano refrains and by the dichotomist problem of containment and freedom. Like the prelude, which is at once a concentrated flavour of something bigger, and a complete entity in itself, the dancers are involved in struggles for identity. They struggle to find legitimacy as individuals, they struggle to communicate their needs to each other and to the audience, and they struggle to function in relationship to one other.

Though the Preludes play with all possible combinations and patterning - group pieces, solos, duets, trios - all are haunted by these questions. Contact between dancers is rarely peaceful or tender, but is strong and forceful. The aggression in the duets, particularly, appears to paint a picture of mutual self-protection and blinkered independence. There is none of the measured emotional contact of the traditional pas de deux nor the mindful, appreciated reliance on the other partner's presence and importance. It is as if the movements just happen to each individual within the pair, somehow without their consent or their active participation. A woman is lifted, thrown and held by a man, her gaze never meeting his, either consciously or just by chance. A man travels across the floor, squatting, leaning, standing, as a woman moves behind him, her fists holding his long hair in two high pigtails. We are left wondering if these individuals are helping or hindering each other, if they are pressing the other towards freedom and release, or if they are violently and manipulatively preventing its achievement.

Each aspect of the visual work reinforces this dichotomy, not least the women's costumes. Somehow the female bodies become censored in the same moment they become released. So though their black leotards are translucent, inviting in the viewer's gaze, a stark black strip covers their genital area, like a literal deletion of their sexuality. Does the woman's body play out her control over an audience that can be invited, tantalised and ultimately denied, or is it an admission of her lack of control, the fact that she must ultimately conceal her sexuality in order to be acceptable?

There is an isolated moment of pity during the piece, as powerful in its simplicity as the rest is in its vigour. Two women inhabit the stage. One tries to communicate meaning to us with nothing but the words of the do-ray-me scale in varying pitches and tempos of desperation, but is sporadically forced to move out of her centre stage spotlight and into a stony-faced crowd marching through her space. The other, physically unconnected in her own green upstage spotlight, dances her confusion and frustration in a whirling but defeated dervish. At crisis point, something cracks. The two are led from the stage quietly and tenderly by the comforting hands of two other women. Though she thrives on crisis, Chouinard is not without the sympathy for humanity to also offer resolve.

It is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again in the second piece Le Cri du Monde. With deafening crescendos in Louis Dufort's original score, Le Cri du Monde falls and rises through a scale of friction, pain, desperation and release. The piece is raw and relentless, and the performers prove themselves to be not only strong, agile and beautiful dancers, but exquisite players of Chouinard's emotional games.

Even before the house lights went down, the air had begun to bristle with tangible currents of excitement flooding through the audience. By the end of the programme, we were as exhausted as we were thrilled. Chouinard, French Canadian 'Bessie' Award winner (Canada's answer to the Oscars), took us on a real roller-coaster ride. If she is a cult figure, I'm definitely signing up.


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Edited by Marie.

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