Futuristic species love irony too: A review of Marie Chouinard’s “The Golden Mean (Live)”

Reviewed in this essay: 
The Golden Mean (Live), Compagnie Marie Chouinard, which ran May 8 – May 12, 2013 at Canadian Stage

Canadian Stage recently welcomed Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live), a repertory piece first mounted at the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad.  This was the first presentation of a major Marie Chouinard work in Toronto since Canadian Stage presented Orpheus and Eurydice in 2011—a curiously long absence for a choreographer with an eponymous company more than 20 years old and likely the most internationally recognizable name in Canadian contemporary dance.

For this piece, Chouinard took audiences into another world for a few hours. She transformed her dancers into futuristic creatures not unlike us, but with a stronger communal sense, a greater appreciation for the sensual, and a penchant for ironic mimicry. They are a playful bunch, all starting off with spiked, golden blonde hair and white expressionless masks emphasizing their sense of unity.

They move with sharp, angled, yet unhinged movement, scurrying about the world created for them within the Bluma Appel Theatre. The striking set design included seating on either side of the stage and a ramped catwalk up the middle of the audience. Large spotlights stood on stage for the characters to manipulate (Chouinard refers to these creature-characters in her program notes as “beings”) while a camera zoomed in on particular sections and projected the live video onto a screen at the rear of the stage.

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These beings are masters of self-representation—they constantly manipulate the freestanding lights and their configuration in front of the camera and audience—presenting themselves not only as a new species to be looked at, but as a species imploring you to look at it constructing the way in which you look at it. The audience may have felt like voyeurs peering into their stark white, closed-circuit environment, but these characters were fully aware of us, hamming up their performances whenever they got the chance.

Their playfulness became evident as all the dancers entered wearing masks displaying the face of Stephen Harper. Watching Harper’s face shimmy like a bobbled-head attached to well-toned bodies was disarming to say the least. The dancers scurried on all fours creating giant Harper-bugs and made lewd gestures to each other—demonstrating the severability of the man from the image, and converting the latter into a mobile sign to be played with and recoded at whim.  A similar spectacle was created with the faces of old ladies, and finally the masks of babies attached to entirely nude bodies. Nothing was too sacred to be flipped upside down in this futuristic world.

Throughout the piece, the dancers shed their creature-like images—gradually discarding their masks, wigs and diaphanous tunics, and trading in their squeals for English or French. It would have been sad to watch these playful creatures disappear had it not been for Carol Prieur’s highly expressive and technically brilliant solo—a reminder that no matter how enticing Chouinard’s futuristic characters may be, it’s her dancers’ generous doses of human emotion that keeps the theatre filled whenever Compagnie Marie Chouinard comes to town.