Swan Lakes Lake Marie Chouinard Eric Gauthier Dance Danse

Photo by Jeanette Huber

Swan Lake is reimagined in a three-part show by Gauthier Dance at Place des Arts from May 1 to 4

An interview with Quebec-born choreographer Eric Gauthier about his company’s contemporary takes on Tchaikovsky, created by Marie Chouinard and Hofesh Shechter.

Quebec-born, Stuttgart-based choreographer Eric Gauthier is coming home, bringing his internationally acclaimed dance company to Montreal as part of a Canadian tour. 

On the bill for the shows, running from May 1 to 4, is a work choreographed by Quebec’s giant of dance Marie Chouinard, never before seen by a Canadian audience. 

Chouinard’s contemporary reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet Swan Lake is among three pieces that Gauthier Dance//Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart will be performing for their four nights in Montreal.

“Gauthier Dance is renowned for doing shows with often a lot of works within one evening — it’s like our trademark,” says Gauthier. “I always want to feed the audience a lot of different things.”

Gauthier Dance resident choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s take on Swan Lake, a piece called Swan Cake, is one of four Swan Lake-inspired works commissioned by Gauthier, but only these two are making it across the ocean for this tour.

“I was thinking, ‘Let’s make a Swan Lake.’ Why not? It’s cool, right? The title will attract and there’s a lot of stuff, there’s a lot there to play with for a contemporary choreographer,” says Gauthier. “One of the Lakes is, of course, super special because it’s a creation from Marie that Canada has never seen.”

Chouinard’s Le Chant du cygne: le lac features the eight women of Gauthier Dance dressed as swans with a pointe shoe tied to one hand, mimicking a swan’s beak and long neck.

“(Marie) was quite clear. She said, ‘I want to do it just with the women,’” Gauthier recounts. He says that Chouinard’s piece has a feminist message, using the swan as an analogy for women.

“The swan is this beautiful, pristine creature that you look at because you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s so amazing. It’s a swan.’ This is how women are portrayed as well — you just stare at them if they’re pretty. But just like the bird, they have something to say.”

Each swan has a meter-tall block of wood, “like a pedestal where you put the women. That’s why the swans stand on these woodblocks, like, ‘Take the woman, put her there, she’s good to look at’ bullshit.”

Swan Lake is reimagined in a three-part show by Gauthier Dance at Place des Arts from May 1 to 4

The audience watches the women, portraying silent, beautiful swans, explode into movement and noise, yelling at the audience in Spanish. 

“It’s a very strong moment because you’ve been enjoying the swans so much, and then they just get serious.”

Gauthier sought out Chouinard for his Swan Lakes project, saying she is among his favourite choreographers.

“I do have this philosophy that women choreographers don’t get used enough, you know, so every evening that I try to put together, I’m trying to find a good balance to support the ecosystem of choreographers,” he says.

“Working with Marie was always a dream. And we like each other a lot. We also have a personal contact, a bit like a big sister. It was kind of a match made in heaven.”

Chouinard couldn’t make it to Germany to create the work, so the eight dancers travelled to Montreal to rehearse in her studios.

“The creation took place in the deep of winter. It was end of January, and the girls were like, ‘Boss there’s snow everywhere!’”

As for Shechter’s work, “a full-blown energy overload, let’s say. It brings the house down, always.”

“Hofesh (Shechter) is like the rock ’n’ roll choreographer of the times today. He lives in London, he writes his own music always, which is very cool,” Gauthier says. He recounted how the music evolved at the same time as the choreography as Shechter’s vision continued to develop. 

Rounding out the evening is Gauthier Dance’s version of Minus 16, choreographed by Ohad Naharin.

Minus 16 is like a shapeshifter piece — everywhere you’ll see it in the world, it has different parts to it,” says Gauthier. 

“What’s fun about it is that the piece starts in the intermission already, there’s actually one male dancer that dances through the whole intermission. But then when the piece starts, they all join him.”

It, too, promises a high-energy performance, with a surprise for the audience at the end. 

Gauthier Dance’s Canadian tour will also take them to Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Toronto — another city Gauthier knows well, from his time studying at the National Ballet School. 

“I’m so thankful that Danse Danse brings us (to Montreal) again,” he says. “For me, it’s like really coming home. I was waiting for this tour for a long time. I’m very close to my roots in Montreal.”

Gauthier Dance’s Swan Lakes and Minus 16 will be performed at Place des Arts’s Théâtre Maisonneuve (175 Ste-Catherine W.) from May 1 to 4, $39–$79

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

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