Marie Chouinard’s two works at London’s Place Theatre are at once strangely similar and strikingly different. The first piece from the Canadian choreographer, 24 Preludes by Chopin (from 1999), is a superb and wholly unexpected music visualisation that discovers an elemental force and an offbeat humour in Chopin’s piano pieces a world away from their image of drawing-room civility.
discovers an elemental force and an offbeat humour in Chopin's piano pieces a world away from their image of drawing-room civility.
The piece begins and ends with the 10 performers standing in silence, dressed only in black Lycra shorts and tunics, feet and crotches gashed with stripes of black tape and hair spiked up into punkish crests. The piano preludes are matched to a varied sequence of short choreographic studies, each developing a single physical idea. The most riveting episode isolates two women in separate spotlights, one remaining tensely still as the other spirals endlessly in her conical vortex of light, until the two seem like the split, alienated extremes of a single being.
Another sequence shows the twists and jerks that a man has to make when partnered by a woman who has grabbed his hair into two fist-sized topknots, while a third has three women whirling and freezing their arms in unison, like sputtering propellers. These simple concepts are made compelling by the intricately complex movement and the sheer technical precision of the dancers, who orchestrate their bodies into spiky ensembles of jutting hips, flickering limbs and torqued spines.
Le Cri du Monde (2000) has the same dense movement style, and almost identical costumes. As with the Chopin, Chouinard fits the movement closely to the music, a driving electronic score by Louis Dufort. But where the earlier work found a refreshing and sometimes witty match between dance and sound, here the pulse and pitch of the score seemed just to pump relentlessly through the performers’ bodies, as if they had no life of their own. The ambience is all anguish and apocalypse, the dancers jigsawing their way through space like alien creatures in a sterile landscape.
With its silent screams, massed contortions and tenacious energy, the piece aims to overwhelm and disturb. But with moments of sheer science fiction, as when the dancers cup their hands to their ears as if to receive signals from the mother planet, it veers perilously close to B-movie portentousness.