Last Friday, January 25, I went to a concert at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall that was unlike any I had ever attended: a performance by the Compagnie Marie Chouinard of music by Chopin and Stravinsky that demonstrated, even to a neophyte like me, how thrilling and emotionally satisfying modern dance can be.
The troupe consists of 10 dancers: 6 women and 4 men. The first piece on the program was 24 Preludes by Chopin, and featured UW doctoral student Brooks Tran on piano. I was already acquainted with Chopin’s preludes, and with the very first notes, I recognized the powerful dimension that dance added to the music. As choreographed by Marie Chouinard, every single dance brought to mind words like “creative”, “inventive”, and “imaginative”. To give just one illustration, at one point a single dancer held center stage while six others lay on their stomachs at the sides of the stage, hidden behind curtains except for their legs and feet, doing a swift flutter-kick.
The highlight of the Chopin was the turbulent “Raindrop” prelude, Op. 28, No. 15. A single woman stood alone and motionless at the center of the stage, looking forlorn and desolate, reciting the notes of the musical scale in French, while another danced a lengthy, improvised solo in a tight pool of light upstage to her right. The first woman was repeatedly interrupted and whisked offstage by the rest of the troupe marching determinedly across the stage, only to run back at once and continue her recitation. The dance ended with both the speaker and the soloist being embraced by other dancers and escorted tenderly offstage.
This was the emotional climax of the entire piece. In it, as in all the preludes, the choreography attempted no story or narrative, but when it ended, the feeling lingered of something very human. At the conclusion of not just this, but several of the dances, the patron to my right breathed a hushed “Wow” to herself. She spoke for many of us.
Throughout the 24 preludes, one’s attention was so focused on the dancers that it was easy to overlook the contribution of the pianist, Brooks Tran. Mr. Tran played with great flair and understanding, and as the performers were taking their bows at the conclusion of the piece, the audience reserved its most enthusiastic applause for him.
Following the intermission, we were treated to a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with the University of Washington Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Pasternak. As was the case in the Chopin preludes, Marie Chouinard made no attempt to follow any narrative in The Rite of Spring. Rather, Stravinsky’s magnificent score was transformed into a series of set pieces involving one or more dancers in which the drama was in the movement alone.
A production so abstract, so free from story-line, begs the question, does The Rite of Spring suffer from this absence of narrative? Does it feel like something is missing? The answer is straightforward: If the story-line of the “Rite” is important to you, then this production may not be to your taste. My guess is that very few people who love The Rite of Spring could tell you much about the story-line anyway. The music is what we know and love, and this collaboration featured not only excellent musicianship but superlative dance as well. The choreography was painstakingly fused to the music, and the musical climaxes were thrillingly rendered. Ultimately, though this was not The Rite of Spring I was expecting, I would not have traded it for any other.
If you have a chance to see the Compagnie Marie Chouinard, you owe it to yourself to go. I was fortunate to see them perform to live music, but if you are not so lucky, you should go anyway. Check their webpage http://www.mariechouinard.com/2013-410.html for their schedule. Put it on your own personal bucket list. I know I won’t pass up the chance to see them again.