Sunday, March 14, 2010

All That Glitters

As a dancer and choreographer, Marie Chouinard incites devotion in her fans that borders on sexual ecstasy or religious mania--which is entirely appropriate given how often she taps into both of these phenomena to create her works. I am most familiar with her 2005 piece bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, in which she sends her dancers out en pointe, in harnesses, with crutches and other prostheses, wheeling barres, and otherwise constrained, in order to explore, among other ruminations on corporeal extension, the dis-abled body's relation to dance. But I have only seen excerpts of that work performed on video. Last night's world premiere performance of The Golden Mean (Live) at the Vancouver Playhouse in a DanceHouse and 2010 Cultural Olympiad co-production, was--as per the tautological parenthesis--the first dance by Chouinard I have experienced live. Entirely appropriate, therefore, that as part of my initiation into the cult of Marie I should be seated on stage.

This coincidence owed to the fact that as part of the stage design for the piece, Chouinard constructed a raised platform that jutted out into the audience, taking out several rows of seats, including those that Richard and I had bought as part of our DanceHouse subscription. Our reward for this inconvenience was the unique opportunity to view the performance from the stage itself. And while this certainly offered a novel vantage point--with Chouinard deliberately disrupting the uniformity of an ideal viewpoint signaled by her title--I can't say it gave me any deeper insight into the piece.

Nor any clear sense of why the platform-cum-catwalk was needed in the first place. Chouinard's dancers certainly made use of it, variously strutting out on it, or pushing props and huge lights to its edges. But its most regular use, as far as I could tell, was as a viewing platform for members of the company not dancing to look back at the members on stage who were. This was just one of several dramaturgical choices throughout the evening that left me confounded.

There was certainly an abundance of Chouinard's visual and aural trademarks on display: costumes that mixed a futuristic aesthetic with cowboy kitsch, and that featured Chouinard's ubiquitous unisex pasties; masks overtop masks; Louis Dufort's electro-acoustic score layered overtop the dancers' own abbreviated sentences and vocal eruptions; and props, props, props. But, as I feel is so often the case with Chouinard, the superabundance of theatricality stands in for a strong through-line, both thematically and in terms of movement. What little I could glean in the former department suggested a Hedwigesque riff on a Platonic origin myth, with the piece beginning with a bodily splitting of two twinned dancers in a process akin to cellular mitosis, and ending in a frankly clichéd and purely theatrical use of total nudity.

As for the dancing, there simply needed to be more of it. One of the things my on-stage vantage point afforded me was the opportunity to see how often most members of Chouinard's company were off-stage. And what they were doing while off-stage, which was mostly affixing props or adjusting costumes.

In a medium that "classically" is all about proportion (of position, of line, of gesture, of bodies), not to mention the variation in and of proportion, it seemed strange not to explore both the beauty and the constraints of this approach to the spaces of and between bodies in more extended pure movement sequences. After the fierce intelligence of Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot's starkly theatrical Dark Matters, the overall fussiness of The Golden Mean just struck me as banal, a lot of bells and whistles which betrayed the paucity of ideas underneath.

Leaving audiences scratching their heads about what it all means is not necessarily a sign of artistic profundity, despite what Chouinard herself states in her own rather opaque choreographic statement accompanying this work. I certainly look forward to seeing more work by Quebec's favourite dance export in the future; I just hope it's more "thought-provoking" than this.


No comments: