Compagnie Marie Chouinard was simply an eye-opener at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last weekend. I had never seen her work before and, like many I heard murmurring in the audience, was thrilled to see such a formalist working with such idiosyncratic mastery. She certainly knows how to get a rise out of people: She’s obviously paired “24 Chopin Preludes” and “Le Cri du Monde” as companion pieces because the first is sheer delight, lulling you into warm expectancy before the next shocks you all the more effectively with sheer horror. Oh, and in both pieces the women’s breasts were anchored with little more than a strip of black tape across the nipples. What most struck me, though, was how her dancers in their flailing braids and headdresses and their hyper, cartoonish gestures seemed like a strange tribe, “more human than human” as the hard rock song goes. And as an audience member I felt like a National Geographic observer sitting hushed in the bushes as the secrets of an alien yet disquietingly familiar species revealed themselves.
Allan Ulrich reviewed for Voice of Dance, and I pretty much agree with him point for point:
“Chouinard is fighting a trend. She prizes the sheer beauty derived from superior dancers moving through space. She values clarity of gesture. She esteems the combinations that can be gleaned from the architecture of the body afoot and in repose. Musculature gleams in these works, arms and fingers are exploited as much as legs, yet the feeling?how untrendy can you get??is one of harmonious design. What?s missing, thank heaven, is the gratuitous layering of social concern that Bay Area audiences are fed by canny and manipulative presenters. There?s nothing here of the “affliction of the week” philosophy that most of the local press worships to distraction.
Nevertheless, there?s still something of the rebel about Chouinard (or there was, five or six years ago, when she premiered these works). The Chopin Preludes, Op. 24 (heard in a recording by an uncredited pianist) arrive with associations for dance folks, including Jerome Robbins? piano ballets and, in orchestrated form, Michel Fokine?s Les Sylphides. Chouinard does, indeed, reference the latter, when the Prelude that accompanies the iconic opening of the Fokine ballet, underscores a fidgety solo for Chi Long, bathed in a crimson light. And the frieze-like postures may remind you of Nijinsky?s surviving ballets.”
To read the whole review, go here.
And you may (or may not) have noticed that the San Francisco Chronicle did not review Compagnie Marie Chouinard in its Bay Area debut. Nor did the paper review Senegal’s mesmerizing Compagnie Jant-Bi, or Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako, from Congo. And so here is my gentle prod, genuinely free of self-interest: If you think it’s important for the Bay Area’s leading newspaper to cover these visiting companies, make your case and let the paper know. Write or email the editors. Speak with enthusiasm, not castigation. Reader demand decides a lot when it comes to editorial decisions, and you can’t complain unless you’ve piped up. I happen to think it’s a shame not to get groundbreaking visiting companies like this into the paper. But I’m just one voice.