Naked except for the black straps of their harnesses, a man and woman hang from the ceiling. They swing from side to side, legs entwined, pelvises grinding. Below, a woman wearing nothing but white-bandage underwear wheels around on the four-pronged cane she grips between her thighs. She holds a sawed-off crutch in her teeth. Oddly enough, there's something uncommonly beautiful about this disturbing scene. But should images of sex and sickness ever dance this close?
Should or shouldn't, this week at Lincoln Hall they will. After galvanizing local audiences in 2003 with a menagerie of bestial lovers wrapped in black electrical tape, the Montreal-based modern-dance troupe Compagnie Marie Chouinard returns to Stumptown. The group will perform the North American premiere of bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS on crutches, canes, walkers and other body-extending devices as part of the White Bird/PSU dance series.
Since her solo debut in 1978, critics have tagged Chouinard, the company's founder, as a shock artist. Today her reputation as a woman who'll urinate in a cup before a live audience to engender a reaction precedes her. And her latest work—a sexually charged ode to brokenness and deformity—is no exception to Chouinard's rule of toying with taboos. But what makes her dance really shocking is that it's really good.
When Chouinard spoke with WW from her home in Montreal, she, like many, insisted that the laws of decency are culture-specific. But for her, other cultures include other species. "If you have a flower that is open, actually it's the sex that is open," she explains. "A flower is the most indecent plant on the planet because proportionately it is the living thing that has the biggest sex compared to the whole of its entity." Gives a new meaning to stopping and smelling the roses.
But hasn't contemporary art already plumbed the depths of indecency? From Dadaist Marcel Duchamp's mustache on the Mona Lisa to the 1960s-era animal sacrifices and crucifixions in Hermann Nitsch's Orgy Mystery Theater, modern audiences feel they've seen it all. Chouinard respectfully disagrees. According to her, there's still plenty that would alarm us. "Two thousand years ago in Rome, you could have watched a person being killed by a lion," she muses. "Today if you saw that, would that not be shocking?"
That said, Chouinard adamantly denies any intention to appall. Mention her latest work's bandage/bondage theme and she counters that sex is only one of maybe a hundred elements explored in gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS. She's right: The lines, the new shapes, the stunning vision of bodies extended beyond what seems possible outlasts the impression made by, for example, a woman on 2-foot crutches gagged with a microphone. "The piece is a celebration of all the possibilities of the body," she explains.
What makes Chouinard shudder? "Narrowness of mind," she says quickly. So cross your legs and open your mind. Chouinard cometh.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs as part of the White Bird-PSU Dance Series at Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave., 725-3307 or 790-2787 (Ticketmaster). 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 13-15. $25+ advance, $15 college students, seniors.