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 Montreals internationally celebrated and justly notorious Marie Chouinard.
Thanks to Canadian Stage artistic director Matthew Jocelyns adventurous broadening of the companys 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 Romes 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 its like watching multiple layers of raw humanity laid bare. Theyre 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 theyre 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 Eurydices snake-bite death and Orpheus journey to rescue her from the underworld underpins Chouinards 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 mens pelvic thrusts, but after the mens arrival wearing impressive strapped-on phalluses a hauntingly poetic sequence that seems suspended in time theres an equal opportunity orgy.
Louis Duforts wonderfully textured electro-acoustic music is a world apart from Monteverdi and Glucks operatic refinements. Whether propulsive or merely atmospheric, it combines with Chouinards own simple set and radiant lighting design and Vandals 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!