Between creation and damnation

“Just as a choreographer can start with a piece of music in order to create, I am starting with the painting by Bosch."

 (photo credit: NICOLAS REUL)
(photo credit: NICOLAS REUL)
World-renowned Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard presents her iconic work inspired by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (circa 1500).
The choreography in three parts shifts between creation and damnation as 10 dancers enter the Garden of Earthly Delights.
Titled Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights, Chouinard’s work, which premiered in the Netherlands in August 2016, the dance piece is a celebration of the Dutch artist’s most famous triptych.
As a preface to her 75-minute dance, Chouinard writes: “Just as a choreographer can start with a piece of music in order to create, I am starting with the painting by Bosch. And just as a choreographer can choose to ‘stick’ to a musical score (or not), I have chosen to ‘stick’ to Bosch’s painting, its spirit; the joy of bowing before a masterpiece!” Carl Jung called Hieronymus Bosch “Master of the monstrous,” but Chouinad sees other things in the work.
“In The Garden of Earthly Delights, I saw the beauty and innocence of human beings, whether they be in paradise or hell, and the compassionate soul of Bosch watching them,” she says.
Chouinard adds that in her eyes, Bosch is modern.
“You see how clever Bosch was, how generous and compassionate in spirit, how he understood the soul,” she says.
The idea for the work didn’t come from Chouinard herself. She was invited to make a theatrical dance work inspired by Bosch’s paintings, to be performed in his birthplace in August 2016, marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
The Marie Chouinard Company will present the work at the Opera House in Tel Aviv on November 6 to 8 as part of the Dance Season.
Not much is known of Bosch’s life or intentions. Interpretations of his intent in this particular painting have ranged from an admonition about carnal indulgence, to a warning about the perils of life’s temptations, to an evocation of ultimate sexual joy. The left panel of the triptych is conventionally considered to depict God presenting Eve to Adam. The Between creation & damnation (Nicolas Ruel) out & about highlights dining events movies television 5 right panel is a dark, gruesome and nightmarish image of hell. The central panel is more puzzling – naked figures seemingly frolicking in a surreal landscape also populated by a variety of mammals and fish.
Chouinard’s dance piece begins with the middle panel.
“It is peaceful and loving. It celebrates life,” she says.
The choreographer then moves to the right panel, which for her is not so much a hell beyond our earthly existence as the hell we’ve made here on Earth or, as she puts it, “It is life now.”
Chouinard’s left panel is paradise.
So that audiences can follow her train of thought, the set and video design of the dance piece feature a huge reproduction of Bosch’s triptych. The dancers are nearly naked, like the people in the painting. A variety of props are clearly related to objects in the painting.
Although in art we have seen naked bodies for ages, in dance not all audiences accept the idea of nudity. But Chouinard doesn’t think it is a problem.
“Actually, the dancers are not nude; they are wearing thong underwear, and their entire bodies are painted white. The audience for dance is ready to see bodies. In this work, since the dancers aren’t nude, they don’t feel that they are nude,” she explains.
The 61-year-old choreographer has garnered international recognition. In addition to receiving the Order of Canada in 2007, last year she won the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, followed by the $50,000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. And to top off a spectacular 2016, Chouinard was appointed artistic director for dance of the Venice Biennale.
Chouinard presented her first work, Crystallization, in 1978. After 12 years as a solo performer and choreographer, she founded her own company in 1990, the Compagnie Marie Chouinard. She has created more than 50 solo and group pieces. Chouinard’s works since 1978 reflect her view of dance as a sacred art, her respect for the body as a vehicle of that art, her virtuoso approach to performance, and the invention of a different universe for each new piece.
The choreographer says that as a child, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be a dancer at all.
“I took my first ballet class at the age of nine. From a young age I did not want to be a dancer, even less a choreographer, but I wanted to be a creator, an explorer,” she says.
In an article written about her, the red-headed choreographer was described as ”La femme sauvage du Québec.” When I ask her about it, she laughs and says she never read that article.
“I am a choreographer, a video artist, a light designer, a writer, the director of my company, the director of dance at the Venice Biennale, the founder and president of Les prix de la danse de Montréal (Montreal international prize for dance).
I don’t know if being all that means I am a ‘wild woman,’ but it is fun for sure!” she says.
‘Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights’ will be performed on November 6 at 8 p.m.; November 7 at 8 p.m.; and November 8 at 8 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv.