Quebec-based Compagnie Marie Chouinard give off the same vibe as their west coast, Vancouver cousins, Ballet BC (seen recently at International Dance Festival Birmingham) – uncompromisingly modern and challenging. Whereas Ballet BC’s visit was rather softened and much enhanced by a piece of Crystal Pite on the bill, both of Marie Chouinard’s works are true to the modern and challenging moniker, where sometimes a little can go a long way.
Chouinard’s latest work may have the ponderous title Soft virtuosity, still humid, on the edge but in the actuality is an interesting and intriguing 30-minute work… unfortunately spun out to 50 minutes and all the worse for it. The premise is simple – to explore various forms of perambulation from frantic to ultra slow. It starts almost like a Ministry of Silly Walks advertisement as dancers funnily and sometimes uncomfortably move across the stage – looking like they are mimicking the disabled. The backdrop is a huge projection screen and after a while we see the dancers’ faces up large – faces that become grotesque, latter-day Hogarth characters, as they twirl on a large Lazy Susan or walk in endless contra-rotating loops as if in an M.C. Escher woodcut. There is a long section as an ever-morphing pack of dancers move very, very slowly across the back of the stage and some of their heads are picked out and magnified on live video. Interesting for 2 minutes but it seems to go on for 10 times that and they still never reach the other side! It ends strangely as a nude dancer comes out in a huge ruffled see-through suit. We also get a Mr Muscles display and and some insect movement. The score of Louise Dufort can also annoy and tantalise, varying between oppressive electronic thrum and the joy of rain (or joy here). What I really liked was the interesting use of video and playing with slow movement, not unlike David Michalek’s Slow Dancing installations, but against it was a feeling of always wanting to press the fast forward button. A shame, but one was very ready for the interval.
The second work, HENRI MICHAUX: MOUVEMENTS, also seemed to go on too long. It’s based on a book of Indian ink drawing (and associated poem) by Henri Michaux, published in 1951. In this 35-minute piece each Michaux drawing is projected up on the backscreen for a few seconds and a dancer, or dancers, attempts to copy it – as if casting shadow projections. The drawings are vague doodles that convey movement, though I doubt you’d put one on your wall and proudly point it out to dinner party guests. While the speedy inventiveness of the dancers is interesting for a while one’s lost interest long before the end, a view encouraged by the the building sound cacophony and reciting of the poem in earnest French declarations. That said, the final flourish, when all the dancers perform together, has some excitement – they really are a great and characterful company in that respect.
Marie Chouinard certainly has interesting and original ideas – hurrah for that – but an editor would really help make the best of them sparkle.