Marie Chouinard, OC, dancer, choreographer, director (born 14 May 1955 in Québec City, QC). An Officer of the Order of Canada and the recipient of numerous other awards and honours, Marie Chouinard is internationally recognized as a major innovator in dance. An iconoclast, Chouinard is fascinated by ritual. Her work presents dance as a sacred art, and the body as a special medium with a spiritual force that should be celebrated. As a soloist, she ranked among the world's best experimental artists.

Early Career

Marie Chouinard began as a performance artist with a series of brief dance vignettes, such as Cristallisation (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 1981 with 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 in Marie Chien Noir (1982) she masturbated.

A Montréaler, Chouinard has lived and studied in Berlin, Bali and Nepal. In 1981, she became the first person chosen to use the Québec government's artist's studio in New York City. 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).

La Compagnie Marie Chouinard

In 1990, Chouinard 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 (by Stravinsky). Both these shows toured widely in France, Belgium, Holland, the United States and Canada. Le Sacre du printemps 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 five couples in various stages of carnal ecstasy. Less controversial for its imagery than for its length and effusiveness, it premiered at the 1996 Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa. By the time a slightly re-sculpted version appeared in Montréal a few months later, it had new music by Luciano Berio.

Chouinard revived all three company works for Trois Fois Marie Chouinard, which was given a three-week run early in 1998. She adopted the same extended performance format for Les Solos 19781998, a chronological presentation of her most intimate solos plus two new pieces, all danced by members of her company. Despite its three-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 more works for her company that became 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 No.1 for Lucie Mongrain in 2001.

Later Career

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 — two films and one interactive installation for the transformative faces of two dancers in 2003 and 2004 — appeared to be inspired by her magnificent Chorale (2003), in which 10 dancers portrayed her unique vision of sexuality and divinity with voice and movement pushed to extremes.

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. In 2005, Chouinard's bODY_rEMIX/les vARIATIONS_gOLDBERG, based on Belgian writer Henri Michaux's drawings and poetry and set to Glenn Gould's performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, illustrated a whole new world of movement assisted — or impeded — by various types of crutches, rope, prostheses, horizontal bars and harnesses.

In 2007, $2 million in federal and provincial grants helped 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. The company’s 2008 production, Orpheus and

Eurydice, drew rave reviews. In a surprise move in 2009, after a 20-year hiatus from solo work, 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, The Golden Mean (Live) was met with great critical acclaim following its premiere at the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. Also that year, 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 two 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.

Film and Television Work

Chouinard’s video and television credits include: Performance (1982), with Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti and Marina Abramovic, and produced by Austria's ORF network; Le Sacre du Printemps (1995) and Les Solos 19781998 (1999), directed by Canadian artist Isabelle Hayeur; and Cantique nos 1 and 2 (2003). She has also 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).

Compagnie Marie Chouinard won the 2009 Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Performing Arts Program or Series, for Body Remix/Goldberg Variations (2008), a filmed version of bODY_rEMIX/les vARIATIONS_gOLDBERG.

Honours

Chouinard was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008. Two years later, on the eve of her company's 20th anniversary, she 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 éditions du passage, and Chouinard's company won Imperial Tobacco's Arts Achievement Award honouring a quest for artistic excellence.

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 — Chouinard continues to add to her repertoire of more than 50 highly distinctive works that exemplify her idiosyncratic humour, sexuality, meticulous construction and performance.

Awards

Jacqueline Lemieux Prize (1986)

Jean A. Chalmers Award for choreography (1987)

Glasgow's Paper Boat prize (1994)

New York Performance Arts Award (Bessie) for sustained achievement (2000)

National Arts Centre Prize (2003)

Conseil des Arts de Montréal Grand Prize (2007)

Officer, Order of Canada (2008)

Prix Denise-Pelletier, Government of Québec (2010)

Arts Achievement Award, Imperial Tobacco (2010)