In conversation with Marie Chouinard, 'the high priestess of choreographic shock'

Renowned dancer and choreographer Marie Chouinard has a lot to celebrate. Her company, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, marks its 25th anniversary and continues to tour internationally, with a full dance card well into next year that includes the 60-year-old Chouinard taking the stage for an upcoming three hour solo performance in Japan. And her Kickstarter project to create a book honouring dancer Carol Prieur’s 20 years with the company recently reached its funding goal.

The Montreal artist is one of Canada's most creative – and controversial – dancers

Dancer and choreographer Marie Chouinard on the movements of the face: “It’s like you see the history of humankind just on the face of one dancer.” (Karine Patry)

Renowned dancer and choreographer Marie Chouinard has a lot to celebrate. Her Montreal-based company, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, marks its 25th anniversary this year and continues to tour internationally, with a full dance card well into next year that includes the 60-year-old Chouinard taking the stage for an upcoming three-hour solo performance in Japan. And her Kickstarter project to create a book honouring dancer Carol Prieur's 20 years with the company recently reached its funding goal.

But Chouinard isn't interested in reflecting on any of it.

"I don't think about that…I prefer to be in the activity of creation. This is where I am more comfortable," she says.

Chouinard has long bowed at the altar of the body. She is a dancer and a choreographer after all. It's her marble. But hers isn't the body traditionally seen in disciplines like ballet, where poise and grace are paramount, where dancers ignore the limits of their bodies.

"I never forget that it has flesh. And, it has bones. And, it has breathing…," she says slowly, emphasizing her words.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard's latest piece, 'Soft virtuosity, still humid, on the edge.' (Nicolas Ruel)

Whether as a solo artist or choreographing pieces for her dance company, her body controversially urinates on stage ("Petite danse sans nom," 1980). It masturbates ("Marie Chien Noir," 1982). It gets washed ("bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS," 2005). It uses a walker or a prosthesis (also "bODY_rEMIX"). And, it is often in some state of nudity.

This has garnered her both praise and criticism. Since starting her career as a solo artist in the late '70s, Chouinard has won several prestigious awards and cultivated an international reputation for pushing boundaries. She's been called edgy, controversial and, my personal favourite, "the high priestess of choreographic shock."

She laughs heartily at that last one on the phone from her studio in Montreal.

"I like the body itself…I love it all," she says when describing the importance of accepting the "reality" of the body and being happy with "what is."

"I'm not talking about not wanting to change things…but there is a way where you can be happy with what is that will create a space and time for really knowing where you want to create something new."

Gerard Reyes in bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, a controversial piece by Marie Chouinard created in 2005. (Sylvie-Ann Paré)

For Chouinard, filling that space and time is a really exciting prospect. She sees movement everywhere.

"Movement is part of the atomic level or the cosmic level. You know, even in the animal kingdom there are some dances somehow. When they do their mating rituals, they move differently. It's like a form of dance. It's beautiful," she says, sighing that last word.

With her latest creation,"Soft virtuosity, still humid, on the edge," dance is also in your face.

"I was very interested in a part of the body that's not very often used in dance…The muscles of the face, the muscles of the mouth, the muscles of the eyes….There is beauty there to see how a face can move from horror to illumination," she says.

"It's like you see the history of humankind just on the face of one dancer."

And while the faces of her dancers are covered at times by their clothing, in other moments their faces are magnified by using a camera to project close-ups on stage. It's mesmerizing.

"It does not stop. You know? It does not stop, the appreciation of the beauty of the world," she says, sighing again at the sheer enormity of it all.

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