Nothing says spring like a horny faun getting it on with a shaft of sunlight. Which is basically what happens in Marie Chouinard’s Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune, a testosterone-enhanced reinterpretation of Nijinsky’s original choreography, performed by the Ballets russes in Paris in 1912. Like its ancestor, Chouinard’s faun is looking for pleasure; but the fluid lines of Nijinsky’s prancing nymph-seeker have now morphed into awkward, quasi-mechanical, need-laden impulses.
Chouinard stays true to Nijinsky’s vision of two-dimensional vase paintings come to life. A single dancer, the awe-inspiring Carol Prieur, moves back and forth across the stage, more or less following the same path in both directions. One thigh is padded, giving the impression of extra muscle; that leg has a hoof rather than a foot. The other thigh is adorned with hairy spikes, which further emphasize the goat half of the creature, as do the malleable horns on its head. The legs and arms are usually positioned in front of the torso; that, plus the jilted movements, and frequent pelvic thrusts, give the impression that the faun is almost moving against his will, or rather, is being driven by a desire completely beyond his control. The intermittent masturbatory simulations further confirm this impression. It’s almost as if the faun’s sexual urgency is keeping him from moving fluidly, like he is being compelled by a force bigger than him to find his patch of sunlight, and, well, fuck it. The faun’s breathing and grunting also contribute to an intense, primal sexuality that provides a compelling counterpoint to the fluid sensuality of Debussy’s original score, played live by the Orchestre symphonique des jeunes de Montreal, whose youthful (and successful!) rendition contributed to the rawness of the evening.
The theme of primal urges is explored in a more profound way in Le Sacre du printemps, again based on a work originally performed by the Ballets russes, this one from 1913, with an iconic score by Stravinsky. If the Faun was an exploration of the drive to procreate, the Rite is an exploration of sheer terror in the face of nature’s overwhelming and often violent force, and of the monstrosity of human impulses, of the nature within.
Movements are often animalistic, ranging from stork to sea anemone, from herd to lone wolf. The thirteen dancers are all dressed in little black culottes; despite the bare breasts, the androgynous, uniform look makes it difficult to distinguish between man and woman. Harsh overhead lighting emphasizes every rib and vertebra. Nothing is prettified: this is nature, folks, bare, naked, brutal. Repetitive motions, for example a sort of static running in place with arms suspended, or a back-and-forth partial handstand where the dancer bounces from feet to hands to feet to hands, characterize some parts of the 40-minute work; but more chaotic group patterns as well as seemingly improvised solos are also featured. To me, this is Chouinard at her best: frenzied, animalistic, sheer energy channelled through human bodies, an onslaught of primitive impulses and primal drives. In short, the awesome yet terrifying power of spring and its attendant rituals.