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Review: A new and outrageous interpretation of Orpheus and Eurydice

// Dec 14,2012

By Michael Crabb
Special to the Star
Nov 01, 2011

4 stars (out of 4)

The ancient myth of the ill-fated Orpheus and his beloved Eurydice has been often retold in opera, dance, drama and film but never, one suspects, with quite the degree of outrageously inventive licence or theatrical boldness applied to it by Montreal’s internationally celebrated — and justly notorious — Marie Chouinard.

Thanks to Canadian Stage artistic director Matthew Jocelyn’s adventurous broadening of the company’s mandate, Toronto audiences finally have an opportunity to experience a work that has been stirring controversy, along with considerable critical acclaim, ever since its premiere at Rome’s Equilibrio Dance Festival more than three years ago.

Chouinard, during an almost 35-year professional career, has commonly been identified as a dancer-choreographer but doing so inadequately categorizes the scope of her vision. Her movement-based works delve beyond steps and arresting sculptural shapes to explore something so viscerally primal it’s like watching multiple layers of raw humanity laid bare. They’re unsettling, provocative and some might argue, because of an uncompromisingly robust embrace of sex as a primary driving force, transgressive. But like them or not — and Chouinard occasionally misfires — they’re always riveting.

Orpheus and Eurydice is Chouinard in high gear, all cylinders firing, as she re-imagines the classic myth as a multi-layered metaphor for the act of creation — and procreation — enacted within a timeless evocation of the cycle of life, death and renewal.

Although the basic narrative of Eurydice’s snake-bite death and Orpheus’ journey to rescue her from the underworld underpins Chouinard’s 65-minute work — wisely compacted from the longer, original two-act version — its effect depends less on narrative than a compounding of images and guttural sounds around a central theme.

The outstandingly compelling five-women-five-men cast — only three of them survivors from the 2008 production — are deployed with a disdain for conventional gender roles. They are all, interchangeably, Orpheus and Eurydice. Bare-topped, nipples adorned with gold pasties, they strut and gambol, lope like primates, writhe in wave-like contortions, pause in frieze-like poses and rut with an abandon that would make Hugh Hefner blush.

Sometimes the women are propelled across the stage by the men’s pelvic thrusts, but after the men’s arrival wearing impressive strapped-on phalluses — a hauntingly poetic sequence that seems suspended in time — there’s an equal opportunity orgy.

Louis Dufort’s wonderfully textured electro-acoustic music is a world apart from Monteverdi and Gluck’s operatic refinements. Whether propulsive or merely atmospheric, it combines with Chouinard’s own simple set and radiant lighting design and Vandal’s whimsically incongruous costumes — fur hats and anklets in Hades — to summon up a luminous underworld of stark, existential madness.

If this is Hell, bring it on!

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