Review: Marie Chouinard, Sadler’s Wells ‘Odd Then Dazzling’

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Marie Chouinard is a risk taker. And this, the world premiere of her new double bill at Sadler’s Wells, has this choreographer at her most provoking. Two bold pieces, both fizzing with energy. Both are dynamic examinations of movement and performance, but where the first struggles to fully engage the viewer, the second is gripping, exciting, and worth the price of admission alone.

So what is it that separates the two performances? Purpose. And it makes all the difference.

Simply, the first piece has none and, as a result, it struggles to hold your attention. Soft virtuosity, still humid, on the edge is a group piece, being performed by ten dancers who explore every conceivable style of walk and gait possible.

An exercise in perambulation, the dancers limp, stagger, even drag themselves back and forth across the stage as their contorted faces are projected in close-up across the backdrop. And the roughness in the work is exaggerated further by the deafening white noise that screams out from the speakers.

cmc mouvement-207

What the purpose of all if this is, I don’t know. As a twenty-minute exercise, it would have been a interesting demonstration of the physical flexibility of the dancers, even an examination of the possibility and limits of movement. But at fifty minutes it overstays its welcome. Who are these people? Where are they going? At first you’re curious but soon you become bored. The mind wanders and you find yourself zoning in and out all too frequently. Without context, without purpose, it’s too easy to disengage.

And then it all went a bit leftfield The dancers started screaming like banshees, one performer walked on completely naked save for a sheer sheet of gauze wrapped around her Gaga-style, and all of a sudden we had a couple of angels with exaggeratedly large wings wandering on to the stage.

The interval came as a welcome relief. But what followed was a complete surprise. Given the first piece, there was more than a little lump of trepidation in the throat but, wow, the second piece was dazzling.

Henri Michaux: Mouvements sees Marie unpick ink drawings from a book by the Belgian poet and writer Michaux, reinterpret them, re-examine them and translate these bold brushstrokes into dynamic choreography.

Company-COMPAGNIE MARIE CHOUINARD Choreography-Marie Chouinard Work- HENRI MICHAUX MOVEMENTS Dancer - Carol Prieur ©-Marie Ch

This is Marie at her finest. The company returned, dressed in simple black unitards and slowly but surely she had them interrogating the limits and possibility of expression through movement, whilst also choreographing a dynamic show that builds up into a feverish frenzy, her dancers echoing the abstract forms Henri created and which are, here, projected in turn across the back of the stage.

This is such a strong piece. I was totally transfixed. Cleverly, each illustration is projected up moments before the dancer interprets it through dance and movement. Your eyes dart back and forth – wall to dancer, wall to dancer – your brain having only seconds to consider how on earth the company will bring to life that illustration.

And as the energy builds, as more dancers take to the stage, you are whisked up into the performance as it climaxes in a dramatic frenzy of movement.

This piece worked because it had this frame of reference – Marie exploring static representation of form and movement – and because it evolved into a dramatic face-off between what the mind can conceive and what the body can perform. Extraordinary. A terrific finale.

Image Credits: Marie Chouinard Double Bill 20 – 21 June © Sylvie-Ann Paré

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