Entertainment » Theatre

UW World Dance Series, Compagnie Marie Chouinard

by J. Autumn Needles
Contributor
Saturday Jan 26, 2013
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The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring  

What a treat to see UW World Dance present Compagnie Marie Chouinard, formed in 1990 by Montreal artist Marie Chouinard. On the program this weekend are two pieces: "24 Preludes by Chopin" and "The Rite of Spring," both choreographed by Marie Chouinard.

"24 Preludes by Chopin" is performed to pianist Brooks Tran playing Frederic Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus 28. Having live music, especially when the pianist is on stage with the dancers as in this case, really elevates the excitement and interest of a piece. As viewers, we can feel the living conversation taking place on stage.

The piece itself is an absolute delight. The pianist sits quietly at his piano downstage of the ten still, standing figures, then suddenly there’s a fluttering of the hands of one dancer, and they all begin to come out of stillness like butterflies emerging from their cocoons. From that moment the entire audience is entranced.

The costumes, designed by Vandal, are simple and evocative: plain black briefs for the men and plain black mesh leotards for the women, in both cases with black strips of electrical tape across genitals and nipples. The feeling is one of nudity censored and the effect of that against the happy, exuberant animal movement of the piece is a thought-provoking juxtaposition.

The dancers literally play with the music; each individual vignette set against each separate prelude is a tiny precise gem. The movement vocabulary of this company is very clean and clear, and very pleasing in its fluid simplicity. I kept hearing little pleased murmurs or little frills of delighted laughter flutter through the audience throughout the piece.

A few moments that stood out particularly: a lone dancer using just his arms like some sort of sea creature; a line of men across the stage passing one woman down the length of them, lifting and replacing her with the downstroke of each piano key; three women swirling their arms with a strobe light effect, giving the impression with the piano music of an old silent movie; a woman speaking urgent French in a spotlight, carried off over and over again by a crowd marching through, while a second dancer twirled endlessly behind her like a little ballerina in a jewelry box; and two lines of dancers, one of men and one of women, carrying one dancer back and forth between the two lines, with the men lifting her high as she sharply flailed her hands to the high notes of the piano, then the women thumping her back across the stage to the bass notes in response.

I wish I felt as strongly about the second piece, "The Rite of Spring," danced to the UW Symphony Orchestra’s performance of "The Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky, under the conduction of Jonathan Pasternak. Having live music again was a marvelous treat, but the dance piece didn’t quite have the same appeal as the first one.

The University of Washington is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Vaslav Nijinsky’s daring choreography to Stravinsky’s innovative and avant-garde composition "The Rite of Spring," both performed for the first time in 1913 to a near riot. The celebration includes a variety of performances and lectures, including this piece by Marie Chouinard.

The dancers literally play with the music; each individual vignette set against each separate prelude is a tiny precise gem.

According to Chouinard, "There is no story in my ’Rite,’ no development, no cause and effect. Only synchronicity." I don’t need a story line running through a dance piece, but without any of that feeling of development of a thread running through, it can be hard to maintain a focus on the dance.

While I loved the costumes in the first piece, the costumes in the second piece didn’t seem to add anything to the dance. The men kept the same briefs as in the first piece, while the women stripped down to join them.

My first thought was that they certainly saved on the cost of material and design that way. Choosing nudity for a dance piece is always a challenging choice and there needs to be a reason for it. I wasn’t convinced in this case that it added anything to the dance.

Having said that, there was still much to admire in the piece. The skill and primal animal energy of the dancers is still very much in evidence, and there were pieces of the choreography that were very effective.

The lighting in particular, designed by Marie Chouinard, was marvelous, and it was easy to get lost in the precision of muscular control by the dancers following each tiny change in the music. Chouinard has a real feel for expressing musicality through movement.

I loved the sheer athleticism of a couple of sections that just involved repetitive jumping, admiring the sinew, muscle and bone of each dancer. There were moments when two dancers would meet and peck their heads out at each other and puff their chests, resembling nothing more so than a couple of strutting roosters encountering one another in a struggle for turf. The use of the breathing of the dancers during silent parts of the music was strikingly lovely. I just wish it had all come together a little more cleanly into a whole.

This is a performance well worth seeing if you can catch it before it leaves town.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard runs through Jan. 26 at Meany Hall, 1313 NE 41st St. in Seattle. For info or tickets, call 206-543-4880 or visit ticket@uw.edu' target='new'ticket@uw.edu|ticket@uw.edu>.

J. Autumn Needles lives in Seattle where she writes and teaches yoga and fitness.

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