Action and inaction

Montreal-based Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs at TAPAC

Montreal-based Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs at TAPAC (photo credit: LAURENCE LABAT)
Montreal-based Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs at TAPAC
(photo credit: LAURENCE LABAT)
The first time I encountered Marie Chouinard was at 7 a.m. on a gray, rainy summer morning in Vienna. Blurry-eyed audience members shuffled into the theater, cursing the hour and the weather yet obviously intrigued by the choreographer’s out-of-the-box choice to host a performance at such a time. Chouinard was in town with her company for the Impulstanz Festival, during which the troupe was hard at work on a new production. For the next hour or so, we watched Chouinard perform the whimsical solo Morning Glory . She walked around the space, seemingly unaware of our presence, enacting some kind of waking up ritual. The show ended with a smattering of applause and hot tea.
The performance stands out in my mind as one of the most authentic and unusual shows I have ever seen.
Speaking to Chouinard about her upcoming tour to Israel, I was once again aware of the joyful light she had about her during that performance.
“I was sick with a fever that morning,” she laughs. Chouinard speaks slowly and deliberately with a noticeable French-Canadian lilt. She chooses every word carefully, lovingly even. “The whole performance I was struggling just not to cough.”
Chouinard got her start as a solo performer in the 1970s. For 12 years, she toured the world as a one- woman show. Then, in 1990, she decided to branch out into larger, ensemble pieces. She established Compagnie Marie Chouinard in Montreal, where the troupe continues to work to this day.
Next week, Chouinard will present two of her many works at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center: The Rite of Spring and Henri Michaux: Mouvements . The former was created during a residency at the National Arts Center in Ottawa in 1993 and features Stravinsky’s 1913 opus.
As for the latter, the Belgian-born poet and painter’s 64-page book Mouvements inspired Chouinard’s Henri Michaux: Mouvements , which was premiered at the Impulstanz Festival in 2011.
“I never premiere my pieces in Montreal,” she says. “I’m too nervous to do that. The program is made of two different pieces,” she explains.
Chouinard adds that the choice to put these two works together came via the local presenter.
“It’s like going to a museum and moving from one room to another.
Our Rite of Spring is 20 years old, while Henri Michaux is the newest piece in the company’s repertoire.”
Like Michaux, Chouinard’s talents cannot be relegated to one medium.
Aside from movement, Chouinard employs film, painting, costumes and lighting to express her vision. In both The Rite of Spring and Henri Michaux: Mouvements , Chouinard designed not only the movement but also the lighting and sets. For many artists, taking on so many elements of the creative process would pose a challenge, but for Chouinard it is natural.
“I’m not split,” she states, “I’m unified. If I can do all of that together, it is because I have a simple clear vision of the work. I never feel split.”
Although 20 years separate the two works, Chouinard says that her creative process remains largely the same.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think my process has changed much. Well, yes and no. I feel that we have only one soul and that we connect from the deep roots of our connection with life. My connection with life and living is basically the same connection since I was born. It can change a bit between a solo performance or a little film or a group piece. I explore with different media, but aside from the medium being different and time being different, I can’t say there is a change. When I see an old work of mine, I don’t say, ‘Oh, that’s old,’ I say, ‘Oh, that’s my work.’” A constant element in Chouinard’s work is the tension between stillness and action. Even in her most dynamic pieces there are moments of shocking stillness. This conflict exists not only on stage but also in Chouinard’s daily life.
“I am so happy when I do absolutely nothing, when I am sitting near the Saint Lawrence River. Just being seated beside that river I wonder why I don’t stop everything and just do that. At the same time, I have this desire to step into beauty.
When you dance and when you are in the act of dancing, there is a communion, a union of life forces with integrated silent virtuosity of being alive and listening to things around you. It calls me to action,” she says.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 15, 16 and 17. For more information, visit www.israel-