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