Marie Chouinard

“Man not by abdomen and buttock plates or vertebrae but through his currents, his weakness what recovers from shock, his startings.”

So begins a selection from surrealist French poet and artist Henri Michaux, who asserts himself in Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s current performance at the Newmark Theatre. If you’re familiar with Chouinard’s electric, transgressive, and sometimes bizarre choreography, it makes sense that she would be drawn to Michaux’s poetic transmutations of the body. If you aren’t familiar with this award-winning Québécois choreographer, this weekend’s show will serve as an excellent introduction.

The company, making its fourth Portland visit through White Bird, has brought two pieces with it. The first is 24 Preludes by Chopin, is one of the company’s best known. It premiered in Vienna in 1999 and was first performed in Portland as part of White Bird’s 2005-’06 season, Preludes displays early hallmarks of Chouinard’s unmistakable movement in a rapid succession of short, effervescent vignettes set to Chopin’s preludes, most of which run less than two minutes. The second is Henri Michaux: Mouvements, which premiered in 2011 and travels deeper into Chouinard’s corporeal experimentation. Consisting of 64 pages of simple, energetic ink drawings, a 15-page poem, and an afterword, Michaux’s 1951 book Mouvements becomes a physical score through Chouinard’s literal reading of its semi-abstract, figurative blots of ink. The dancers, dressed in black Lycra, cavort across the stage in front of giant screens onto which the drawings’ contorted shapes are projected.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs "Henri Michaux: Mouvements." Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs “Henri Michaux: Mouvements.” Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Chouinard’s movement is unmistakable, but more nuanced than it may seem at first. You might be tempted to write it off as grotesque or simply weird if you only experience it through internet clips. People often post gifs or videos of perhaps her most infamous work, bODYrEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, in the comment sections of online discussions about modern art, as knee-jerk examples of its excess or strangeness generally. I can understand that take if viewers have only seen her work online, without seeing the amount of play and esprit in the performance or understanding the company’s dedication to exploring the movements and peculiarities of the body. Chouinard’s dancers in bODY_rEMIX pull exaggerated faces and crawl, flop, and bounce across the stage in little more than gauze wraps and touches of body paint, employing canes and crutches in ways they were never intended to be used.

Continues…

DanceWatch: A rich cultural stew

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Welcome to DanceWatch for March, the month that enters like a lion and retreats like a lamb, or so they say. While it’s still cold and dark outside, you can think of this month’s dance offerings like a warm winter stew: hearty, rich, varied, and soul-soothing. And don’t forget that spring is a mere 22 days away!

Let’s start this month’s column with Native American dance. Last fall, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art caught my attention with this statement in its Time-Based Art catalog: “The land now known as Portland rests on the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia (Wimahl) and Willamette (Whilamut) rivers.”

I didn’t know this. Did you? I was struck. I rarely hear about the native tribes of Portland and the surrounding areas and I even more rarely see dance representing these cultures. I feel weird about this. I can’t go back to not knowing. In fact, this information made me want to learn more about Native American dance artists in Oregon and beyond, and recently, I did.

This past Sunday, I attended the Alembic artist performance at Performance Works NorthWest, where choreographer Olivia Camfield, a resident artists and a Muscogee Creek Tribal member from Texas Hill Country, choreographed and performed a powerful contemporary piece about indigenous people reclaiming their narratives. She welcomed everyone with this statement, a reminder to be respectful when we’re visiting someone else’s territory.

“Hensci (hello), estonko (how are you), Olivia Cvhocefkv Tos (my name is Olivia). I come from the Muscogee Creek nation of Oklahoma. Originally we come from the southeastern region of this continent. I would like to acknowledge that I am a visitor here today and in the spirit of reciprocity, I would like to bring medicine and movement prayer to this land and the people of it. These nations include the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala Bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya, and many other indigenous nations of the Columbia River valley region. I would like y’all to acknowledge whether you are a settler occupier of this stolen land, an indigenous visitor, or you are of this land and this is your ancestral territory. I would like to ask to come here and be in a good way and walk this land as a caretaker and a medicine giver. I would like y’all to do the same, be here in a way that is respectful and honorable to the people and spirits who have taken care of this land since time immemorial. Mvto (thank you).”

Continues…