There is something about this work that I dislike. But I am quite interested in my feelings of dislike which ultimately makes me quite interested in the piece. Created in 2005 by the Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard, the dance piece bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS is as frustrating as its ungainly title. The ten perfectly sculpted dancers, wearing some incredibly uncomfortable looking straps, perform with an array of props and exude the constant and unsubtle theme of sexuality in a way that is so overt, it is almost boring. To be fair this particular dance aesthetic is not my favourite so my opinion is nowhere near objective and I have only watched a few short extracts of the rest of Chouinard’s repertoire. There is still something raw and brave about her work that although I may not enjoy, I have to admire.
This being said, I don’t know how to write about the aspects of this piece that I find perturbing without sounding precious and silly. It is a strange and edgy work to be sure, but this is not what interests me, for one often expects an ‘shocking’ edge in today’s contemporary dance world. However there is something else at play that does not sit well, the bodies that perform seem too perfect and neat, there is a play at subversion, a pretend sort of ‘ugliness’ that still manages to be spectacularly beautiful and admirable – and I don’t trust it.
The use of crutches, walkers and other such ‘props’ which, according to her website, “…gives rise to unusual bodily shapes and gestural dynamics and opens onto a universe of meticulous and playful exploration” is something I cannot wrap my head around. I found it strange, almost patronizing, to see the strong and perfectly able bodies ‘playing’ and ‘exploring’ with objects that, (for many with less able bodies) represent an aspect of self which make it possible to access a world that is otherwise totally inaccessible and unfriendly. Again, perhaps I am being too precious and tip-toeing around a certain unnecessary political correctness but the use of crutches I feel immediately introduces a certain discussion around disability and ability in bodies and dance, they are objects that immediately say something or suggest something. This discussion is one that I feel needed more thought and intention in the choreography and perhaps less impressive spectacle and striking poses.
The balletic references like the pointe shoes, the barres, the tutu, I found to be another interesting aspect of the piece. The shoes are played with, explored, somewhat sexualized and emphasized, Bach’s music is also played with and mixed around. These iconic aspects of ballet are thrown upside down and twisted around and I think this is supposed to upset or challenge traditional approaches to our idea of classical dancing bodies. However, there is this problem with using balletic props and perfect bodies to subvert certain ideas of ballet, as one is still complicit with the narrow confines of what constitues a legitimate dancing body. This piece is provocative and challenging, yes, but it still seems to comply strictly with the sort of bodies that are allowed to be naked and sexual, that is, incredibly pale, beautiful bodies. (I am aware that this is a common gripe with me – ‘The naked bodies are too beautiful and white!’ but when one takes into consideration the fact that there are SO MANY different types of bodies in the world, one does expect an occasional lapse in this particular aesthetic, particularly if it is a contemporary and current work of art.)
One aspect of this piece that I did find bizarrely engaging, was the use of the dancers’ voice and the various strange sounds they make throughout the piece into a microphone. It allowed for a very eerie and creepy climax that I found quite absorbing. It served as a reminder that I am still massively unused to the idea of dancers making sounds and noises, as though the mouth and vocal chords are not apart of the body.
It may have been that I missed entirely the point of the work and am cluelessly unimpressed by something that I should be impressed by. Either way, I decide to bravely commit to my opinion that I do not like the work, with the comforting disclaimer of repeating that I still quite admire the commitment and bravery of such a piece. And maybe the fact that the work held my interest to the extent that I wanted to write about it (even though it is not an aesthetic I am drawn to), perhaps this makes it a very good work of art. Anyway – I’m glad I watched it, I’m glad it exists. Here is a short extract from Youtube and you can watch the full work at UbuWeb and see for yourself what you think of it: http://ubuweb.com/dance/chouinard_body.html