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Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard
photo Marie Chouinard
 Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard
photo Marie Chouinard
Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard
photos Marie Chouinard
Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard
photo Marie Chouinard
Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Orpheus and Eurydice, Compagnie Marie Chouinard
photo Marie Chouinard
FOUR MALE DANCERS WEARING FETISHISTIC BLACK HIGH HEELS AND TINY GOLD SHORTS STRIKE PROFILE-VIEW POSES AS A YELLOW GLOW EASES UP THE SCRIM. STATIC, THEY PROUDLY SILHOUETTE THEIR OVERSIZED PROSTHETIC COCKS UNTIL THE LIGHTS MOVE INTO PULSING GOLD FLOODS. THEN FEMALE DANCERS APPEAR, RAW TECHNO BEATS ASK FOR PASSION, AND THE STAGE HUMS UNDER COPULATIVE DUETS. THE DISPLAY DELIBERATELY QUOTES CIRCUS-STYLE ENTERTAINMENT; IT IS A SPECTACLE OF GOLD CLOTH, BARE SKIN AND TWISTING LIMBS, EMBRACING EXCESS.

The scene is one of the highlights of Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard’s Orpheus and Eurydice, which played at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse this September. Chouinard’s innovative work is celebrated, and occasionally denounced for including spectacle, which remains the case with this work. Originally presented in Rome and then Hong Kong in two acts over almost two hours, Orpheus and Eurydice was pared to 65 minutes in one act by the time it toured Canada, allegedly in response to critics’ complaints about repetitiveness.

Whatever the reasons behind the change, the single-act performance is compelling. And spectacle is an important part of its success because it counterpoints scenes where the dancers are silent. Silent but gorged on desire to speak: a dancer hangs her arms forward from slumped shoulders and staggers in giant, weak steps across the stage, all the while stretching her jaw to form a painfully held O. This dancer, and many others in scenes to come, embodies the empty, black space a mouth would be if Orpheus—and poetry—had never existed.

Montreal-based Chouinard is one of Canada’s most distinctive choreographers. She embraced the role of enfant terrible in the 1970s and 80s by pushing the limits of how much primal and sexual energy a choreographer can demand of herself and her dancers.

So it is familiar Chouinard territory when Orpheus and Eurydice dazzlingly celebrates phalli. Costumes by long-time collaborator Liz Vandal that celebrate the entire body are also a familiar, but never predictable, Chouinard mark: men and women wear gold lame short-shorts and gold pasties most of the time, sometimes with white fur ankle cuffs and hats; the other option is loose blue-grey overalls, worn shirtless.

From her position of deep “erotic body” vocabulary—a vocabulary that knows eroticism isn’t always comfortable or beautiful—Chouinard creates an altered narrative between sexual stereotypes. The dance moves repeatedly between the pain of poetry/music/love lost (Orpheus’ journey into Hades) and the unstoppable force of creative power (emphasizing Eurydice’s role as goddess of fruiting trees). Here, the male is lack (those empty mouth holes) and the female is fleshy presence.

Throughout the performance, all the dancers perform the range of full-empty-full options, from gaping need to voluptuously fulfilled eroticism. The loss of voice is, appropriately, often expressed through the soundscape. Orpheus and Eurydice opens with a male narrator presenting the text of the myth by ‘reading’ surtitles. He speaks into a freestanding microphone, mouth deliberately too close. He crackles his voice with convulsive growls and visually distracts us with neck-to-elbow contortions and twisting feet. Then he leans there, open-mouthed, silenced, too weak to stand. At last, a female dancer comes to lead him away.

In this and many other scenes, the other dancers growl and shriek but maintain one of the show’s main images: strange, open-mouthed expressions that look almost palsied. Their wordless universe consumes their muscle power.

In contrast, when the dancers channel Chouinard’s version of Eurydice, they approach the hunger of body, mouth or stage with gifts that fill space and exude energy outward. The best gifts are from each other’s bodies; dancers use their fingers to pull sounds out of each others’ throats, or each other’s bellies. In several scenes, dancers gently place palm-sized jingle bells in each other’s mouths. When any slack-jawed dancer receives a bell, strength ripples up through their weak-posture spines and they can dance again.

The bells form a simple yet profound metaphor for rejuvenation through erotic love. More than this, Chouinard’s Orpheus and Eurydice makes a statement about the resilience of creative energy. The myth of Orpheus as tortured artist is a story of lack, as many operas, ballets and films have emphasized; consider Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy from the 1950s, or Gluck’s 1762 opera (though in that work Amor restores Eurydice to life and tragedy vanishes).

Marie Chouinard accepts the separation of the lovers, but concludes her work with restfulness, not despair. In the last scene, all 10 dancers repeatedly roll dozens of jingle bells across the stage and across each other’s bodies. Mouths healed, they inhabit a gentle curtain of sound and form a net of gold, reflective light. If traveling to hell and back includes fertility and erotic joy as much as pain, then it too can be embraced.


Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Orpheus and Eurydice, choreography, direction, set, lighting design Marie Chouinard, dancers Mark Eden-Towle, Eve Garnier, Lucie Mongrain, Carol Prieur, David Rancourt, Gerard Reyes, Dorotea Saykalay, Lucie Vigneault, James Viveiros, Megan Walbaum, original music Louis Dufort, costumes Vandal; Yukon Arts Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, Sept 18

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 35

© Meg Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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