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Cultural Olympiad: Marie Chouinard Breaks Boundaries in The Golden Mean

// Dec 14,2012

Culture Seen couldn’t stop laughing. Several dancers were lying on their backs on stage doing nothing. One started waving his (or her; Culture Seen couldn’t tell) feet back and forth at the ankle. Then the others mimicked the same simple motion and began moaning and crying. Then they stopped. One dancer again started waving his feet and the rest did the same only this time, they all started laughing. On the third time, they returned to moaning. It was silly, simple and hilarious. It was childlike – just like the dancers themselves who had just been born into Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard‘s The Golden Mean (Live).

Chouinard’s new work had its world premiere Friday at The Playhouse during the Cultural Olympiad. Contemporary dance at its best, The Golden Mean was funny, outrageous, rude, theatrical, and gorgeous to look at it. The Golden Mean was the kind of performance that made Culture Seen put down his pen within the first few minutes. He didn’t want to miss a thing by thinking about and writing down words. He wanted nothing to interrupt his visit to Chouinard’s world.

The performance began as everyone was taking their seats. Once the ushers opened the doors to let us in, the dancers were on stage doing both warmups and more choreographed moves. But as they were all wearing sweats, loose pants and hoodies, the audience and dancers blended together as if we were in one space. The barriers were further broken by what had been done to the stage. A long ramp extended out from the stage to the 12th row, angling up as it climbed the raked tops of the seats. On stage, several seats on either side of the stage were set aside for audience members. Wlhat Chouinard did was break down the 4th wall that traditionally separates performers from audience members. That was reinforced by the sound. Instead of coming at us from the stage, speakers on the side of the theatre delivered sound from at least three sides. Culture Seen felt like he was experiencing an event rather than watching a performance.

The Golden Mean starts with a birth. Under bright movable lights, two dancers emerged from silky cocoons. They’re humans but different from the rest of us: they all have blond spiky hair and wear individualized golden body-hugging clothing, several with varying lengths of fringes like on cowboy pants. Some wore dark black eyeglass frames which made them look nerdy – and very hot. While innocent and childlike at times, these new humans could also be childish and bratty. When they have sex, they rut like animals. Chouinard has a knack of portraying eroticism in such a visceral way it takes your breath away. When one of the dancers put her fingers in another’s mouth and pulled the dancer around, Culture Seen found it both a horrendous violation and seriously sexy.

At the end, the dancers all came out on stage wearing nothing but enlarged pictures of baby faces over their own faces. Culture Scene suspects they were baby images of the dancers themselves but he can’t be sure. The contrast between the innocent-looking baby faces atop naked dancer’s bodies was extraordinary: it was both humourous and erotic. Was it funnier because they were baby images? Or did Culture Scene laugh because he felt uncomfortable by the naked bodies coming so far out on ramp near where he was seated? Maybe both. Naked, the dancers had all returrned to the state that we all enter the world. But of course as adults we can’t go back to the beginning – only forward into the future whatever that may be.

The Golden Mean (Live) has one more performance this evening at 8 p.m.

Originally posted on The Vancouver Sun’s Culture Seen blog.