Quebec’s prolific choreographic darling Marie Chouinard sounds, even over the phone, to be in constant motion, always on the verge of a surprise or a revelation. She seemed genuinely shocked to realize that 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of her own dance company.
This January also brings bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS back to the stage in Montreal, 15 years after its premiere at the Venice Biennale. It’s one of Chouinard’s most iconic pieces, in which 10 dancers, largely in bondage, perform a playful and sexually charged ballet that makes extensive use prostheses, harnesses and props, all to a score by Louis Dufort in which he remixes both Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the voice of Glenn Gould. I spoke to Chouinard about bODY_rEMIX, about her process, what she looks for in a dancer and how she conceives of freedom.
Nora Rosenthal: What were your inspirations for bODY_rEMIX when you made the piece?
Marie Chouinard: I had this music of Johann Sebastian Bach, The Goldberg Variations, in mind for years and was always thinking “one day I will choreograph on that.” Then also the interest in using the point shoe was there, also the idea of using harnesses, so all of those elements were floating in my intuition. I don’t know what happened but one day those elements — fioooou! — dropped into my mind.
NR: For a piece with this kind of longevity, is what you tell your dancers now when they’re rehearsing any different from how you might have guided them 15 years ago?
MC: No. I think it’s more profound, more developed, more multifaceted, more multidirectional, because I’m mastering all the elements.
NR: Have you come to see bODY_rEMIX differently over the years?
MC: No, absolutely not. I’m sorry. It really has its own spirit and its spirit is still alive, so it’s not different. Maybe it’s growing but it’s not different at all. It’s like a tree, you know? If you watch a tree when it’s 50 years old and then the tree is 100 years old, it’s different but […] it’s the same genetic code, the same spirit, the same potential. It has its own life, its own soul. A soul doesn’t change. A soul is a soul.
NR: Is that how you feel about all of your work?
MC: Yeah, the spirit of the work is really fun because we can come back to it and somehow deepen it. It’s like a landscape you’re exploring. It’s like you’ve stepped into another country with another culture and you can deepen your connection with it.
NR: Could you speak a little about your collaboration with the composer Louis Dufort?
MC: I love him so much. We have been working together for almost 22 years now I think. He’s the only composer with whom I’m working. I’ve been working indirectly with Chopin and Stravinsky and Bach but he’s the only other one I’ve really collaborated with. Each new creation is an adventure and a joy. It’s very interesting that over 22 years we are somehow developing independently but when we meet for creation it’s like whooooosh! It’s like spinning.
NR: In terms of other collaborations, at this point in your career are there particular dancers — who have come up through your company and gone on to choreograph — whose work you feel a particular connection to, where you can see how your lineage has impacted them?
MC: I would say Benoît Lachambre. He’s doing things that are very much on the verge of somatic approaches to movement. Very poetical. He was among the very first dancers who joined the company when I created it in 1990. That’s… wow that’s 30 years. Wow. I just realized. You made me realize it’s 30 years ago I created this company! He was part of the group of seven dancers at the time.
NR: Are there other people from that first group of dancers who you collaborate with regularly?
MC: Carol Prieur. It’s now 25 years that she’s been working with the company and she’s amazing. Sometimes I feel she’s the youngest and the most dynamic and creative and everything. She’s still happening, she’s still wonderful.
NR: What do you look for in dancers you invite to join your company?
MC: That they are malleable, that they are really flexible not only in their body, [but also] in their mind. That they have a curiosity, a passion, that they are ready to transform themselves, that they are ready to discover and research not just at a physical level but also a connection of the physical and the spirit.
NR: I’ve read that part of bODY_rEMIX is an exploration of freedom, of how these harnesses are both constraining and releasing. What does freedom mean to you in this context?
MC: Freedom is complete openness of the mind. It’s associating different things that you never thought would go together. Suddenly you make them go together and it creates a new landscape in your mind, in your philosophical approach to things. Freedom is really travelling in new dimensions and letting your own body be transformed by it. Your mind develops new paths because of that so it’s inner transformation and outer transformation together. That’s freedom. You can create yourself, you create your own environment, so you act upon not only the elements around you but you also act upon the elements inside you. Freedom is you engaging yourself in those avenues that you have no idea about.
■bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS will be performed at Théâtre Maisonneuve (260 de Maisonneuve W.) Jan. 28–29, 8 p.m., $30–$71