Marie Chouinard

Marie Chouinard, dancer, choreographer, director (b at Québec 14 May 1955). Queen of the avant-garde, Marie Chouinard began as a performance artist with a series of brief dance vignettes such as Cristallisation, in 1978, in which she dropped raw eggs, and Danse pour un homme habillé de noir et qui porte un revolver (Dance for a Man Dressed in Black and Carrying a Revolver) in 1979. Her early reputation was highly sensational. She flirted with scandal in the 1981 Danseuse-performeuse cherche amoreux or amoreuse pour la nuit du 1er juin (Dancer-Performer Seeks Male or Female Lover for the Night of June 1), in which she auctioned herself off. Petite danse sans nom (1980) caused her to be banned from the Art Gallery of Ontario because of a urination scene, and Marie Chien Noir (1982) showed masturbation.

A fixture on world stages from Moscow to Singapore and Calgary to Kyoto, Chouinard's pieces are in such constant demand that the choreographer-director frequently splits up her hard-working company and her repertoire in order to fulfil obligations, allowing branches of her group to simultaneously appear in different parts of the world.

Marie Chouinard, a Montréaler, has lived and studied in Berlin, Bali and Nepal and was the first person chosen to use the Québec government's artist's studio in New York, in 1981. Her video and television credits include Les Solos 1978-1998 (1999) and Le Sacre du Printemps (1995), videos directed by Isabelle Hayeur; Performance (1982) by Austria's ORF network with Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti and Marina Abramovic; and Cantique nos 1 and 2 (2003). She has participated in two films: Corps à Corps, directed by Jean-Claude Burger (Québec, 1998), and J'aurais aimé vous voir danser, Madame Akarova, directed by Michel Jakar (Belgium, 1999).

Marie Chouinard is an iconoclast who is fascinated by ritual. For her, dance is a sacred art, and the body is a special medium with a spiritual force that should be celebrated. Much of her early work involved extraordinary muscle control, as evidenced in the guttural sounds she emitted from her stomach while portraying mythical beasts in Drive in the Dragon, S.T.A.B., (Space, Time and Beyond, 1986) and L'Après-midi d'un faune (1987). As a soloist, Chouinard ranked among the world's best experimental artists.

In 1990 she formed La Compagnie Marie Chouinard to create Les Trous du ciel, a large work that featured throat singing by a fictitious clan of "primitives." This was followed by Le Sacre du printemps (1993), Chouinard's first work to a musical score (Stravinsky). Both these works toured widely in France, Belgium, Holland, the US and throughout Canada. Sacre made its debut with a full orchestra in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1994. It was also performed with the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE orchestra in 1996.

L'Amande et le diamant, Chouinard's third group piece, showed 5 couples in various stages of carnal ecstasy. Controversial less for its imagery than for its longwindedness, it premiered at the 1996 Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa to an original score by Chouinard's long-time collaborator, Rober RACINE. By the time a slightly resculpted version appeared in Montréal a few months later, it had new music by Luciano Berio.

Chouinard revived all 3 company works for Trois Fois Marie Chouinard, which was given a 3-week run early in 1998. She adopted the same extended performance format for Les Solos 1978-1998, a chronological presentation of her most intimate solos plus 2 new pieces, all danced by members of her company. Despite its 3-hour length, Les Solos was a popular success and an unprecedented 10 performances were added to its Montréal run. Trois Fois Marie Chouinard and Les Solos toured separately and simultaneously.

Chouinard choreographed 2 more works for her company that were destined to be critical and public favourites: Les 24 préludes de Chopin (1999) and Le Cri du monde (2000). In 1999 she choreographed a solo, Des feux dans la nuit, for powerful company dancer Elijah Brown, and made Étude #1 for Lucie Mongrain in 2001. Chouinard is frequently commissioned to create dances for independent artists and her works are shown around the world.

Since 2000, her pieces have become even more densely mysterious, penetrating and polished as she strives for new horizons. The Cantique series - 2 films and one interactive installation for the transformative faces of 2 dancers in 2003 and 2004 - appeared to be inspired by her magnificent Chorale (2003), in which 20 dancers portrayed her unique vision of sexuality and divinity with voice and movement pushed to extremes. In 2005, bODY_rEMIX/les vARIATIONS_gOLDBERG, based on Belgian writer Henri Michaux's drawings and poetry and set to Glenn GOULD's Goldberg Variations, illustrated a whole new world of movement assisted - or impeded - by various types of crutches. Compagnie Marie Chouinard won the 2009 GEMINI AWARD for best performance in a performing arts program or series, for a filmed version that included crutches, rope, prostheses, horizontal bars and harnesses.

Chouinard's company continues to be sought after by most of the world's biggest dance festivals and each new production causes critics to search for fresh ways to express their enthusiasm. Orpheus and Eurydice (2008) drew rave reviews.

In a surprise move in 2009, after a 20-year absence, Chouinard returned to the stage in a new solo, morning glories, which was presented the following year in sold-out performances at the Venice Biennale.

In 2010 Chouinard's company won Imperial Tobacco's Arts Achievement Award honouring a "quest for artistic excellence and originality"; The Golden Mean (Live) made its premiere; long-time company dancer Carol Prieur, who frequently performed Chouinard's early solos, was named dancer of the year by Germany's prestigious Tanz magazine; and 2 Chouinard works were danced by other companies. Brazil's Sao Paulo Companhia de Dança bought the rights to Prélude of Afternoon of a Faun, and 24 Préludes de Chopin was reworked for 17 dancers of the National Ballet of Canada.

In 2007, $2 million in federal and provincial grants helped to give Chouinard's company a home of its own. The new studios opened in a reconfigured former library in the heart of Montréal's trendy Plateau area.

Chouinard's honours include the Jacqueline Lemieux Prize (1986), the Jean A. Chalmers Award for choreography (1987), Glasgow's Paper Boat prize (1994), the New York Performance Arts Award (Bessie) for sustained achievement (2000), the National Arts Centre Prize (2003) and the Conseil des Arts de Montréal Grand Prize (2007). She was invested as an officer into the ORDER OF CANADA in 2008 and, 2 years later on the eve of her company's 20th anniversary, was presented with the Prix Denise-Pelletier by the Québec government for outstanding work by an international artist. Also in 2010, the monograph, Compagnie Marie Chouinard Company, was published by les editions du passage.

The French government appointed Marie Chouinard a Chevalier in its Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in a Paris ceremony in 2012. The event coincided with the French premiere of the choreographer's much-toured The Golden Mean (Live), an important work that exemplified her gorgeously outrageous way of tickling funny bones.

Always faithful to her inspiration, the poetry of the body, its silence and breath, Marie Chouinard continues to add to her repertoire of more than 50 different and highly distinctive works exemplifying her idiosyncratic humour, sexuality, meticulous construction and performance.