Monday, September 28, 2009

Critical Perspective of Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus and Eurydice by Natalie Meisner

Orpheus and Eurydice contains many of the trademark Chouinard elements:
otherworldly simmering sexuality, gravity defying lifts and leaps, utterly committed physicality, and costuming that highlights the conflicted and conflicting forces that meet at the site of the human body. Chouinard’s choreography is provocative and demanding. It causes us to rethink the limits, not only of the performer’s body, but of the human body. What is our own body, after all? A package, a possession, a prosthesis, an object, or a point of contact with the outside world?

The piece evokes both the devastation of tragedy and the bawdy roots of comedy. This is especially noticeable in the hilarious, sensual, and oddly touching segment where the dancers wear (or are worn by) their oversized phalluses which seem to almost pull them across the stage cavorting and sliding singly and in pairs. In keeping with its point of departure, the work evokes the roots of comedy with the Satyr: a high spirited companion of Pan/Bacchus, part human and part bestial who, in Greek mythology, roams the woodlands in search of erotic adventure.

There is an interesting physical/spiritual dialectic at play here about the nature of erotic connection. The electric joy visible in the dancer’s physical choreography and facial expressions seem to celebrate multitudinous copulation while the use of minimalist staccato music and robotic gesture underline the mechanical and even the dance macabre aspect of sexual acts.

The summary of Orpheus and Eurydice on the overhead screen seemed beside the point and risked reduction and packaging of the myth rather than enlarging upon it. Both the placement of a dancer in the audience and the device of pulling the words out of the dancer’s bodies seemed overused and conventional methods of enlarging upon the distinguished tradition (Artaud, Handke , Sarah Cane, Carolee Schneemann, etc. ) of audience confrontation. While Orpheus and Eurydice might lack some of the bite of her earlier work, this piece is worth the experience, especially for those who haven’t yet confronted the heady mix of dance, performance art , high fashion, musical experimentation and spectacle that we have come to expect from the reigning queen of the avant-garde.

Dr. Natalie Meisner
Department of English, Mount Royal College

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Orpheus and Eurydice article from All The Best Things Magazine

Tuesday was the opening at Theatre Junction GRAND. Orpheus and Eurydice takes both the performers and the audience on a wild journey of the senses. From the opening moment to the final piece, there is something going on stage that is felt and experienced, a visceral experience for both the performers and the audience. The communication progressed into a dialogue, each reaction by the audience created a stronger connection that built into the crescendo of the final scene.

There was a feeling in the room like a spell was cast on the audience. When I occasionally took my attention off the performers and onto the audience, I saw a collective group mesmerized, and glued to their chairs. There was no movement. It was as if each and everyone’s senses were being so fully absorbed that their bodies were rendered motionless.

Earlier on Tuesday I had a chance to speak with three of the lead dancers Lucie, Dorotea and James and these are some of their thoughts on Marie’s work for them. There is a deep exploration through Marie’s work a lot of possibilities, layers and pockets that allow you to go deeper and deeper, accessing subconscious states. Marie’s inspiration changes every time, continually blossoming throughout the whole creation of the piece its completion and even after. If she was a painter she would sneak into a gallery that held one of her finished paintings every night adding another brush stroke, continually adding a new element. Past works, even pieces that are 10 years old are still being modified as no piece is ever fully finished.

Marie is focused on the dancer’s body, and is in tune with movements that are pleasurable to the senses and body that the dancers can have fun with. This creates a comfort and openness, and allows for change and new creation each performance. She has really found a way to find joy and out of her work, an amazing edge without being a tortured artist. It is seen as a process by all involved in the creation. Dancers have a great trust and love for her connection with the dance, dancers and the audience.

I personally love when I see something that makes me want to connect with others and discuss what I have witnessed because there is so much to share, whether it is joy, sadness, anger or any other emotion. After the show a packed room awaited full of people sharing their thoughts and insights. The woman I shared the evening with was full of observations and questions, and so was everyone else who visited our table. The place was buzzing with excitement. If you are looking for a feast of the senses that entices and offers a new way of experiencing and seeing the world this is for you. Calgary is blessed that Marie Chouinard’s work continually shows at this beautiful venue. Performances like this will be talked about for a long time.

Ari Hershberg, All The Best Things Magazine

Critical Perspective of Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus and Eurydice by Michael Thomas Taylor

What we got in last night’s performance of Orpheus and Eurydice was eros on stage: as in last year’s revival of Chouinard’s Rite of Spring, the company explores the primordial drives and energies of myth as the foundation of modern theatre. But this new theme is more deliberately artistic: Orpheus marks not only one of the most essential myths of poetic creation and loss but also, with Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607), the birth of opera. It is telling that this opera was rediscovered and performed in 1905, as part of the same explosion of artistic energy that produced the avant-garde primitivism of Rite of Spring. The smashing of the classical forms that had come to define the rituals of European theatre went hand in hand with the canonization of Orpheus as the figure through which theatre imagines its origins.

Yet in re-telling this story Chouinard loses Orpheus much the way Orpheus loses Eurydice when he looks back. The piece leaves it open as to whether the singer looks back out of fear, audacity, or sheer desire; and at one point it makes us, the audience, into Orpheus, rendering Eurydice—her loss and the lament it provokes—an object of our desires, too. Mouths become one enduring sign for this loss and the pain of this lament: mouths gaping open, making ghoulish and senseless sounds; offering entryways and exits for ingestion and reanimation and for passage to the sexual organs, and exposing the dancers’ bodies to the torture of being pulled inside out. These openings cut a void through the center of the piece’s highly stylized vocabulary of carnivalesque and ecstatic gestures and movements, and above all, through the dancers’ faces, which display an amazing gamut of extreme expressions. The effect is both fierce and silly, and what appears bestial and demonic can turn quickly into vaudeville or magicians’ tricks. This is a work that knows it has put a myth on stage, and that all stages have barkers, however high or serious the art. For Chouinard, the Orphic myth thereby becomes a prism to articulate the desires set free when modern dance ritualizes and formalizes essential, everyday movements of the body, and to register the displacement and spectacle—the shared experience of the body—that result when these movements become theatre.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary