Radicale Vitalité: Marie Chouinard pushes the envelope, laughing all the way

photo credit: Sylvie-Ann Pare

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In her latest work, Radicale Vitalité, Solos et Duos, Marie Chouinard walks a bunch of fine lines: pleasure vs. pain, laughter vs. tears, love vs. strife, sanity vs. insanity, animal vs. machine, functional vs. dysfunctional. Through a series of 25 short vignettes, mostly solos and duets, she explores the profound whackiness of the human condition.

The work opens with two consecutive solos focusing on items passing through the body. In the first one, a dancer wearing a costume and striking poses that recall Egyptian hieroglyphics appears to insert a small bell into her vagina, and, through a series of contortions, force it up through her torso and back out her mouth. In the second, a dancer wearing a white shift reminiscent of Ancient Greece drinks a glass of water, then squats over a pail waiting to pee. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Marie Chouinard.

Next follows the first of many duets that highlight the often unbalanced nature of love between two people. An almost-nude man on a pedestal repeatedly shouting “ho” is lovingly attacked by an elf-like woman decked out in colourful garb. Later duets feature different forms of complementarity and unbalance. Particularly moving is the duet danced to a slow Handel aria by a tall woman en pointe and a shorter man. The shapes created by the height disparity between the two dancers, combined with the romanticism of both Handel and ballet en pointe, project a poignant but uncomfortable reciprocity.

Other duets explore different types of uncomfortable connection. In one, a man with a limp and a cane is moved to painful pleasure by a woman with one pointe shoe: every time she touches the floor with the shoed foot, he cries out in anguished desire. In another, a man supports a woman from behind, his arms stuck straight under her armpits, while she dances like a crazed marionette practicing frenzied ballet moves to Chopin. Other duets evoke a post-apocalyptic feeling using electronic music composed by Louis Dufort. In one of these the dancers’ movements blur the line between animalistic and mechanical, invoking storks and herons but also using robotic, mechanical gestures that work perfectly with the score. The duo rires-pleures is particularly funny but uncomfortable, like being tickled until you cry.

Other highlights of the show include a young woman with a parasol that is actually a cymbal. She seats herself under it in a sort of sandbox full of red “flames,” pulls out two drumsticks, and starts whacking the cymbal over her head and screaming. It’s hilariously cathartic. Two of the vignettes feature video projections onto a large screen at the back of the stage. The second one, featuring two sets of hands intimately evoking a beating heart and other more abstract pulsings was oddly moving.

Many more scenes are worthy of mention. Most of them combine humour and pathos in such a way that you laugh and then feel like you shouldn’t be laughing. Others should not be seen if you’re not feeling wholly emotionally stable. Chouinard plays with tipping the precarious balance of stability that most of us walk, alone or in relationships. If it weren’t for the large humour quotient of this work, it might be more disturbing. Like all Chouinard works, it’s absolutely worth experiencing.

Radicale Vitalité is at Théâtre Maisonneuve January 30, 31 and February 1, at 8pm. Tickets from $33-79 here.

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