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Richard Penberthy
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater

Compagnie Marie Chouinard - Return of the Humane Affect

by Richard Penberthy
December 13, 2005
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Compagnie Marie Chouinard - Return of the Humane Affect

Presented at the Joyce Theatre
New York, NY

Richard Penberthy
December 13. 2005

The Compagnie Marie Chouinard performance at The Joyce Theater on Tuesday evening, December 13, brought two dances to the stage, a 35-minute solo, "Etude #1" and a 45-minute "Chorale" performed by the entire 10 member company. The works are very different, one introverted and insistent of an audience, and the other extroverted and drawing in - charming really - its audience.

"Etude #1," performed by Lucie Mongrain, is performed with "real time processed sound" by Louis Dufort - dancer initiated percussion and brief phrases as well as recorded and instantly replayed sounds from the dance and the dancer. The stage, which is topped by a smaller, miked over-stage, is set up as if a rehearsal is in progress, with Ms. Mongrain in shorts and top and her assistant, Jim Viveiros, in stange-hand black. She wears a shiny cone projecting horizontally from the back of her head, and her tap shoes are silver toe-capped and heeled. There are silver sequins on her eyelids. The effect is steely rather than silvery. She is lifted onto the stage and sits cross-legged, both at the beginning of her dance and near the end of it. Her taps and steel balls tossed and rolled across the miked stage provide percussion and pace, enhanced by techno-music. The dance is not a tap dance, per se but more performance piece with tap as one element. It is also an exhibition of contortive dance, of traditionally-understood modern dance, even of balletic gesture, and of dramatic expression. In effect, it is the drama of a willful child performing for an audience insistently, holding the audience with her eyes and strength. It is an estimable performance, at once alienating and fascinating.

"Chorale" is a complex, episodic group work for the company of seven women and three men whose every upper-body sound is miked - breathing, moaning, laughing, and panting. The whole piece is vibrant with sound and movement. The dancers perform in makeup reminiscent of Northwest Coast - Tlingit or Haida - totem masks. They are vermillion red from cheekbone to brow, with a heavy black browline and outer orbit. The effect is unexpectedly adaptable: while the totems' purpose is to intimidate with fearsome expressions, in this dance it reads just as clearly as passionate, even gentle. The dancers are intensely expressive, masking themselves with smiles, grimaces, leering tongues, and adoring looks. Costumes are variations on a theme of black, some with sheer elements, some with sand colored bands. Simultaneous movement and vocalization are essential to this work. Dancers exhale rhythmically and percussively: hun-hun-hun in a rapid heartbeat tempo that drives the dance. In an early episode in this structure, two dancers pass the rhythm back and forth - one coaxing the sound with gentle touch from the other and the other coaxing it back. There seems joy and generosity in the giving.

Much of the action takes place in silhouette with the dancers against the backlit backdrop. The poses are extreme, with flexed backs and with arms akimbo, fingers splayed wide apart or contorted. These silhouettes are very like those of Kara Walker, who teaches at Columbia University and whose work is now being shown at the Greg Krucera Gallery.

Humor, affectionate gesture, passionate anger and passionate sensuality each inform their own episodes and combine in others. Humor takes the stage early with a dancer barking and shrilling at a movable spotlight onstage. The pitch and intensity are those of an disconsolate, lonely puppy. She is calmed with kisses, a tattoo of kissing sounds as a dancer bends to her and the lonely dancer picks up the rhythm with her own kissing sounds to match. This theme, with the spotlight wheeled about the stage is repeated in several variations in the program. While the first iteration shocks the audience with its loudness and pitch (New York apartment-dwellers will barely be able to contain the impulse to shout, "Shut that dog up!"), those that follow aren't so much alarming (though just as shrill) as they are accepted at some philosophical level. They seem less annoying; the theme itself has changed your sensibilities.

This piece is full of moments that demand of the audience two simultaneous reactions - first, certainty that you know clearly the meaning of the sound and gesture and phrase, and second, uncertainty, wondering if you've quite got it all since the next phrase may be off-angle from what you've understood. Unsurprisingly, the repeated hun-hun-hun (with some variation on that theme) panting sounds lend themselves to sexual situations. The dance embraces sexual situations, titillation, exhibitionism, bondage, and climax. Charmed of sensuality: one dancer, carried away by the sheer joy of it, strips, but seeing no similarly joyous response, becomes timid, grabs her clothes and scurries offstage. It is the one clear moment of vulnerability, and punctuates all the swaggering self-assuredness tellingly.

"Chorale" is fully engaging. It is not yet another cryptic commentary; this is life-praising. Against current social conventions - toneless voices, noncommittal gestures, expressionless faces, and affectless interactions, this work carries the fight for enthusiasm and meaning.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs at the Joyce Theater from December 13 - 18.

Photo courtesy of Marie Chouinard

Artistic Director and Choreographer
Marie Chouinard
Executive Director
Paul Tanguay
Kirsten Andersen, Mark Eden-Towle, Andrea Keevil, Chi Long,
Carla Maruca, Lucie Mongrain, Isabelle Poirier, Carol Prieur,
David Rancourt, James Viveiros

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