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Marie Chouinard admits that this performance   represents the “joy of bowing before a masterpiece (NAC program p.3) as she subjects her choreography to the spirit of Bosch’s Triptych  The Garden of Earthly Delights.  The one dimensional  language  of the painter that spreads out on a   flat canvass  before us, marked by the visual esthetics of  the Northern Renaissance ,  is  given a new  spirit on the NAC stage. Contemporary androgynous bodies  moving in space  with musical accompaniment,  subjected to predetermined steps and a form of perfectly orchestrated chaos, reveal the  enormous  shift in creativity that was required by Chouinard to capture the spirit of  Bosch’s  three movements  that inspired her work: The  Garden of Earthly Delights, Hell and Paradise.  This performance suggest Milton’s  Paradise lost  as much as Salvador Dali’s form of surrealist transformation  of everyday objects:  see the torture on the ladder, or the long pipes twisting into thrusting buttocks or imaginary birds and hybrid reptiles, where human beings are easily confused with  the most unimaginable creatures and embarrassing body noises. And yet the result  forces us to rethink  the nature of stage performance and how the  work of  Mme Chouinard has become an enormous contribution to the many ways  the human body can become an instrument of representation in space.

The painting was her starting point,  and then, in a manner similar to the work of Daniel Meilleur in the 1990’s, (les Deux Mondes),  after the lights highlight various human bodies on the canvas, a strange vibrating creature slides on stage from the wings, shaking its hands and feet,  lifting its lower parts, hunched over but advancing forward, as if it had just wriggled free from the painting.  First one then two then several bodies moving in a symmetry which is quickly broken and part 1 of the evening is quickly on its way.

This first part becomes a progressively  liberated expression of impulses, of desires (can we really speak of desires since we are no longer sure these individuals are human…), of creatures who resemble species of human animals that whirl about in a garden filled with imaginary plants, luscious fruit,  all manner of roots, buds leaves and parts that find their way on stage. They bite, they chew, they grapple with each other, they change the way their bodies move and mainly, all the recognizable human functions seem to have melted into  something new .

The bodies are transformed by the proximity of imaginative creatures as well as the way human beings are represented in Bosch’s painting itself. Gestures keep the hands stiff, these appear to confirm the  flat one dimensional body on the canvass because the movements suggest the symbolist elements of Afternoon of a Faun,  danced  and choreographed by   Nijinsky  for the Ballet Russe, inspired by the flat Greek figures painted on  antique urns


The interaction becomes more violent as the site shifts to “Hell”, the rumbling  human voices resemble  the roaring of lions, and the free movement is even more aggressive, more disarticulated as shrieks echo throughout the soundscape .  The  moving bodies seem to be even more  porous , held by  little internal muscular structure;  arms ,  legs and other body parts fall away, wiggle easily, are not tightly connected and find themselves in positions that are not recognizably  human.  The image of the human figure in the art work of that  period has found its way onto the stage as  Marie Chouinard’s  corporeal instruments  glide snake-like, their faces are  marked by pain and fear as the howling grows stronger , and disconnected heads find their way stuck on  feet, or even in positions a lot more sinister.  Then they move off, it is over and Paradise begins.

Chouinard has captured the visual esthetics  of the period through her dancers’ bodies  and she openly  confirms the debt she owes to  Bosch when the 10 dancers slowly move downstage, out of the light, to become shadows looking over the audience as the painting takes over centre stage again.  The lighting (which Chouinard  arranged herself) then plays a central role  as the shadowy figures clinging together,  move slowly back up stage into the light and as they approach the Bosch backdrop, they  slowly melt away like a visual illusion,  to become  reintegrated into the painting itself.  That final effect was magic.

The intermedial effect of dancing and painting where the dancing bodies  assume the esthetic qualities of the XVIth  century painted body (1515),   was perfectly orchestrated, even if the accessories  resembled contemporary   objects and  the results  send  us throughout the whole history of stage esthetics.   Marie Chouinard  continues her personal path of  corporeal research and each time the results are even more exciting.  The Garden of Earthly Delights will certainly return to the NAC for a longer run next time and it would be a shame to miss it if it does.

The Garden of Earthly Delights  inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch

Choreography, set design, video, lighting , costumes and props :    Marie Chouinard

Original music : Louis Dufort

Dancers: Charles Cardin-Bourbeau, Sébastien Cossette-Masse,  Catherine Dagenais- Savard,  Valeria Galluccio,  Motrya Kozbur, Morganne Le  Tiec, Scott McCabe, S acha Ouellette-Deguire,  Carol Prieur, Clémentine Schindler.

A production of the Compagny Marie Chouinard, in association with the Canada Dance Festival.

Created at the  Theaterfestival Boulevard-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, August 4, 2016