YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Dark dreamscapes

Compagnie Marie Chouinard rediscovers the instinct for movement expression in a cohesive suite.

October 10, 2005|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

So much contemporary dance from the French-speaking world celebrates eccentricity, theatricality and discontinuity that Montreal's accomplished Compagnie Marie Chouinard looked like an old friend during its local debut engagement at Royce Hall on Saturday as part of the UCLA Live series.

Formed 15 years ago, the company moved through a dark dreamscape in both "24 Preludes by Chopin" (1999) and "Le Cri du Monde" (2000), the performers wearing sheer, revealing black costumes by Vandal and bombarded by strobes and other bold lighting effects by Axel Morgenthaler.

Chouinard's distinctive movement language focused on the arms and especially the hands, with shimmering fingers prominent in each work, along with the sense of a preverbal culture rooted in gesticulation.

In "24 Preludes," that culture seemed recognizably human, with a tribal look all its own -- including Mohawks -- and social games on view, starting with a neo-primitive version of soccer.

The piece began and ended with the nine dancers posed while leaning forward, as if frozen when trudging through some Arctic snowfall. Once thawed, they pursued communal activities, and outbursts of individualism were gently but firmly curtailed.

Splendidly immersed in Chouinard's vocabulary, the dancers attained maximum athleticism when jumping in place and jabbing their fingers at the air as if it were Chopin's piano, and maximum intimacy when Mark Eden-Towle stopped oppressing Lucie Mongrain and she discovered that her finger-energies sparked those of Julio Cesar Hong. In this society, that's true love.

Chouinard sometimes used only the briefest of excerpts from Chopin's piano scores -- just one statement of the theme from Op. 28, No. 7, the prelude familiar from Fokine's "Les Sylphides," for example -- but the stylistic purity and expressive variety of the music challenged her to create a suite with many modes of attack as well as a powerful sense of cohesion.

In "Le Cri du Monde," the original music by Louis Dufort simply supported her ideas, so the interplay of sight and sound proved far less complex and the range of actions far more arbitrary. This was Chouinard's wild kingdom, for the interest in animal motion that had occasionally surfaced in "24 Preludes" -- hands flapped from the wrist like flippers, a horse-like cantering duet -- now took over completely.

Everyone danced topless, marked by body paint -- the women bearing a horizontal stripe across their breasts, the men a vertical one nearly from the breastbone to the navel.

Mating and eating merged in one duet, as if the two kinds of hunger could be simultaneously satisfied in a single predatory attack. But touch games defined a more playful kind of intimacy and depictions of the thrill of body-to-body contact added to the vibrancy of the piece.

Dancers on the sidelines embodied the herd instinct -- bobbing, weaving, quivering in tight clusters -- while the work's bursts of intense light and sound suggested the forces of nature that these creatures couldn't understand but had to endure. And although those in the audience occasionally saw people with recognizably normal human movement carry off various individuals (to a zoo?), Chouinard built her final image on protective group solidarity and survival.

In "Runes," "The Book of Beasts" and other works, Paul Taylor created modern dance visions of early man and the animal world as atmospheric and whimsical as Chouinard's. What she brings to these subjects -- what makes her work memorable -- is the depth and detail of the movement, the feeling that she's trying to ignore or bypass human history and start over by relearning all the nonverbal ways that living beings convey their needs and feelings.

So the familiarity of her preoccupations -- eccentricity, theatricality, discontinuity -- masks the originality of her mission: to rediscover the instinct for movement expression, the source of dance. And that kept interest high Saturday in Royce Hall.

Los Angeles Times Articles