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Marie Chouinard review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘viscerally exciting’

Marie Chouinar double bill at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Sylvie-Ann Pare
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Ten dancers cross back and forth across the stage in various contorted attitudes. What at first might seem offensive – a parodic imitation of physical disability – becomes oddly beautiful as if the Ministry of Silly Walks suddenly got serious.

Their faces are projected live on the rear wall by cameras placed around the stage; they grimace and twist, smile and mould their features like plasticine. The jerky constant rhythm is underpinned by a soundtrack of crunching, scraping and creaking, relieved from time to time by the stuttering drone of an organ.

When a couple sit folded together on a slowly revolving disc their expressions suggest the mystery of intimacy. The ensemble gathered together slows down to the barely perceptible movement of a minute hand. They resemble a Greek Chorus, struggling to convey the news of some catastrophe. The Leni Riefenstahl bodybuilder posturings of a girl in a black bikini and the naked girl in a stiff organza exo-skeleton push it over the edge of indulgence and it outstays its welcome by about 15 minutes. But the second piece, tight and driven by a pulsating, rhythmic, post-industrial score is viscerally exciting.

As a series of jet black drawings like Rorschach blots gone wrong are displayed on the screen the dancers attempt to interpret and simulate each shape and form, many of which resemble animals or insects. From the fundamentally simple idea of human calligraphy Chouinard constructs a work of staggering virtuosity whose accumulating speed and intricacy reaches an intense climax as the dancers shed their black clothes and dance in a strobe light. Based on the illustrated book by Henri Michaux, it is a near perfect alliance of form, sound and movement.

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Quebecois choreographer Marie Chouinard’s monochrome double bill vibrates with colour beneath the skin