Body break

Choreography legend Marie Chouinard discusses her epic bODY_remix/gOLDBERG_variations. Sue Carter Flinn reports.

Marie Chouinard doesn’t read her own press. She’s surprised to hear about a feature interview penned by celebrity interrogator Sarah Hampson in last Saturday’s The Globe and Mail.

If Chouinard did peruse her own publicity, she would learn that she’s considered one of Canada’s most important and visionary choreographers. She would read that her new piece, the frustratingly named bODY_remix/gOLDBERG_variations, on at the Cohn on November 22, has exhausted a stack of positive adjectives: dazzling, clever, beautiful, amazing, dizzying. The lovefest continues.

The 50-year-old choreographer, who hasn’t danced on stage since 1990, focuses on her own intellectual and creative development rather than on writers’ observations. This simple decision may explain how, after 27 years, Chouinard’s work remains relevant and exciting to watch.

“I’m very interested in things that will bring my own curiousity alive, for my own sense of adventure, pleasure and excitement,” she says on the phone from her home in Montreal. “I’m interested in what’s challenging my mind or in finding myself in the discovery stage. That’s why things are not ordinary or banal, I guess.”

At two 45-minute sets, bODY_remix is considered a long piece. Ten dancers, both male and female, are equipped with ballet barres, crutches, pointe shoes, harnesses, ski poles and other appendages that alternately constrict and extend movement. Chouinard pushes the physical structure of the human body.

“It’s an intellectual game of playing with the mathematics of the body,” she explains. “But at one point when you play with that, you reach another dimension, of course, which can be much more moving emotionally, or intellectually, or philosophically. It gets deeper as you go. As you work with the mathematics of it, you gain free access to another land of meaning.”

The result isn’t always beautiful in the conventional sense—unless you’re its orchestrator. “I find beauty right there. So for example, this body with pointe shoes and crutches at the same time, there is like a ‘ba-da-ting.’” Chouinard makes a high tinkling sound. “It goes into my mind and makes connections I never made before.”

Chouinard has a reputation as an aesthete—although she’s quick to point out that it’s her job to be more interested in how a body moves than how a performance appears. Still, there’s a distinct and sensual look to her work. This is sexy stuff, in part because of her dramatic costume choices. For years Chouinard has worked with designer Liz Vandal to develop a wardrobe that hides as little of the dancers’ bodies as possible.

“We want to keep the body visible with all its muscles and the kinetic beauty that there is visible,” Chouinard says. “Because in this piece we were using the chords, the elastics, the barres, there were always lines around the body, so decided to use and continue the lines inside the body for the costumes. The body is traversed with lines.”

Every tiny detail is critical. For six years, she wanted to use Glenn Gould’s version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations—32 distinct variations of an aria—as the musical basis for a piece. Chouinard’s music director Louis Dufort composed variations of Variations, mixing the music with an interview by Gould. Dufort plays with the rhythms and beat changes in Gould’s voice, turning it into another layer of sound—another variation on the variations theme.

While bODY_remix continues to tour across Canada, Chouinard has just finished writing a book of ideas, and is in search of a publisher. She has no plans to give up her first muse.

“Whatever you use for art, you can use wood, or you can use electronics, or movies, whatever. Is there a vision and can you bring it to people? Is it somehow a nourishment for your soul?” she asks. “I’m interested in working with other materials other than bodies, but bodies are the medium that is most appealing to me.”

bODY_remix/gOLDBERG_variations, November 22 at the Rebecca Cohn, 6101 University, 8pm, $15-$30, 494-3820.

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