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Marie Chouinard Braves New Worlds

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Compagnie Marie Chouinard in The Rite of Spring
Photo by Nicolas Ruel
The Montreal-based Compagnie Marie Chouinard graced UW’s Meany Hall with two otherworldly works this Thursday, January 24. Chouinard’s innovative movement vocabulary and exacting musicality were displayed in abundance, as was the pure stamina and power of her dancers. Worth seeing for those reasons alone, it continues UW World Series’ trend of bringing innovators in the wider world of dance to Seattle’s stages.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard in 24 Preludes by Chopin
 Photo by Marie Chouinard
In 24 Preludes by Chopin, Chouinard used the classical structure of Chopin’s 24 preludes from his Opus 28 as a landscape for her lush and inventive physicality. The movements perfectly reflected the inherent mood of Chopin’s melodies, which ranged from playful to aggressive to melancholic. Each vignette depicted a different human drama: a frivolous soccer game, a woman preening herself in endless revolutions, or whimsical feet peeping out from the wings, flexing and pointing as a dancer in the center conducts them. Brooks Tran, the pianist who accompanied the piece with incredible clarity, was the true conductor at work though. The dancers’ bodies responded to every strike of the keys; it was truly music made physical. The simultaneous rhythms played by each hand on the piano were indicated when several dancers frantically kept pace with the melody while another group undulated to the repetitious chords. Such exacting musicality could have easily sunk into predictability were it not for the consistently imaginative shapes of Chouinard’s movement vocabulary. Wrists fluttered like caged birds, legs churned the air, torsos rolled in glacial waves. Permutations of classical ballet also emerged, most notably a rapid-fire petit allegro accompanied by wildly gesticulating arms.
And while the musicality lent itself to light-hearted visual gags, the whole piece retained a slightly sinister undertone. The headpieces of abrupt mohawks combined with the women’s barely-there black mesh bodysuits and the shadowy lighting gave it an almost grotesque and impish air. Displays of violence and conformity also contributed: a woman is tossed around by her pigtails and another is repeatedly silenced and absorbed by a passing crowd. Only the all-influential piano music keeps the piece from becoming too heavy. In the end the troupe halts and faces the piano, pitching forward toward it on the final note; they cement the instrument’s hold on them.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard in The Rite of Spring
Photo by Marie Chouinard
The troupe helped celebrate the centennial of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with their own unique rendition. A different story from Preludes in many ways, Rite was far too similar in others. By the very nature of its dissonant and feverish score, Rite holds much more dramatic potential. Instead of the traditional large group renditions, Chouinard’s featured solos and small groupings of dancers. In many instances they each occupied his or her own pool of light, writhing as if being painfully reborn into a strange new world. Chouinard’s style is distinctive in its ability to fluidly connect gawky shapes; Rite  had an animalistic, sometimes erotic quality, and was always assertively performed. The movement seemed to be wrenched from the dancers’ bodies by manipulative external forces. At several points they donned spiky protrusions, making them even more alien. Unfortunately, aside from several stand-offs with distinctive bird-like pecking motions, the movement too closely resembled that of Preludes, diminishing its power. The freshness of the vocabulary was gone and it never went in a different direction for replenishment. Furthermore, Rite lacked Chopin’s piano music to buoy it, and the combined effect of the Stravinsky and the quirky movement was harsh, even spastic. Due credit must be given to the UW Symphony Orchestra. Live music always accentuates dance, and they tackled the powerful score with gusto and verve.
The performances continue January 25­26, at Meany Hall. For tickets, click here.