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Compagnie Marie Chouinard

by Brian Wallace
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Nov 8, 2013
Compagnie Marie Chouinard rocks the Joyce
Compagnie Marie Chouinard rocks the Joyce  (Source:Sylvie-Ann ParĂ©)

Just when we thought we were getting a lot better at yoga, the Joyce Theater has invited the Compagnie Marie Chouinard from Montreal to show New York what the human body is actually capable of. Whether the experience one seeks is physical or spiritual, their tandem presentation of "Gymnopedies" and "Mouvements" will touch and enthrall anyone seeking a journey that only the finest art can spark.

Of course this is a dance company, not a holistic retreat. But the choreography is comprised of so many kinetic, frenetic asanas in motion that a little transcendence is certainly in store. Perhaps "frenetic" isn't quite the appropriate word, as there is nothing uncontrolled about these pieces, no matter how combustible they may appear. From the knuckles to the spleen, and indeed everything in between, Madame Chouinard has mapped and plotted every sinew, sculpting motility from marble, a masterpiece that three dimensions struggle to contain.

Lubricated by musical scores that are as sharply jagged or loosely flowing as the figures in their respective acts, the pieces are said to have taken months to prepare, and the time well spent is evident.

The first act, "Gymnopedies," is set to Erik Satie's 19th-century compositions of the same name. In an inspired move, Chouinard has dancers play the piano themselves, accompanying their cohorts live. Never mind that we're told at least some of them didn't know the piano when building the dance began. They learned. True, the music of this section seems to be comprised of but three or four distinct tones, and those played slowly.

But water is only made up of three atoms, and look at all the things it can do.

The first image of this series of duets is tantalizing. Underscored by the purposeful piano, stalagmites of fabric, resembling Old Testament pillars of salt, transform themselves still into cocoons. Two by two, the rest of our company emerges, naked and in unison, and proceeds to discover the space and each other.

Yes, the Joyce's website advises us there will be nudity. But if you're not offended by the statue of David, there should be nothing to unnerve you when his flesh-and-blood siblings come to life. "Gymnopedies" does go from sensual to sexual, to downright animalistic, punctuated by voice and breath. But since Joe Lhota lost his bid for mayor this past week, the place is unlikely to get raided or shut down.

There's a false intermission tacked onto the end of "Gymnopedies." When the house lights come up, don't rush to the bathroom or you'll miss the clowns. Not so many years ago, everyone with an audience was popping on a red nose in this town and spreading their faces into wide, open-mouthed stares before ambling into artificially innocent humor. Had Lhota run back then, he might have squeezed out a victory if he had simply promised to drive out all the artists who had to prove they'd taken somebody's workshop.

From the knuckles to the spleen, and indeed everything in between, Madame Chouinard has mapped and plotted every sinew, sculpting motility from marble, a masterpiece that three dimensions struggle to contain.

And these clowns are French Canadians. Quel horreur, eh?

But don't be daunted. The dance doesn't stop, and they integrate the softened brains with masterful physicality that is just as enchanting as it is intimidating. The result is almost all charm.

A special program note was inserted, informing the audience that "Gymnopedies" would be performed first. Other than saving the better for last, it hardly mattered.

"Mouvements" is inspired by a 64-page book of India ink drawings by Henri Michaux, published in 1951. It is unlikely, though not at all impossible, that the eclectic Michaux intended to marry this book to dance. But as crafted by Chouinard, the flavors mesh better than your favorite recipe.

The company, slithered into black bodysuits barely separate from their own skins, bring these Rorschach blots to exhilarating life. If the visuals -- a grand collision of dance and projections -- ultimately secured in one place only by strobe lighting, make us forswear eyelids, the effect is perfected by Louis Dufort's exuberant, almost hyperventilating original music hammered into our ears.

Every individual dancer not only embodies the shape of each scratch of ink, but elucidates a physical trajectory, a centrifugal force of movement (hence, I suppose, "Mouvements") that must require skeletons of putty and a dedication of iron.

It took Chouinard twenty years to devise this piece. The average person takes that long just to realize he hates his job. It's nice to witness someone make the right call once in a while.

The "compagnie" is in town only until Sunday. If you have weekend plans that would keep you away, change them. This troupe is on tour almost every day of the year, and at that rate, they could all have arthritis by the time they return to New York.

But as any yogi will tell you, arthritis is earned. Regret you pay for. Don't miss this one.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard dance runs through November 10 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue in New York. For tickets and information, call 212-242-0800 or visit www.joyce.org.

Brian Wallace is a hack of all trades. He reads a play every day and can be followed or flayed @WallaceWaxes.


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