Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue
Compagnie Marie Chouinard:
Orpheus and Eurydice
April 17-19, 2009
Always innovative and often provocative, maverick artist and choreographer Marie Chouinard’s newest work is a dramatic, contemporary ballet based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, the first poet, and Eurydice, his beloved wife. Exploring the birth and power of language and its links to the body, Chouinard employs her signature style — intense, adventurous, and sensuous.
While fleeing from Aristaeus (son of Apollo), Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her fatally on her heel. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (he was the only person ever to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following and in his anxiety as soon as he reached the upper world he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever. The story in this form belongs to the time of Virgil, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus' visit to the underworld; according to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium (179d), the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Ovid says that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day.
The story of Eurydice may actually be a late addition to the Orpheus myths. In particular, the name Eurudike ("she whose justice extends widely") recalls cult-titles attached to Persephone. The myth may have been mistakenly derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.
The descent to the Underworld of Orpheus is paralleled in other versions of a worldwide theme: the Japanese myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Akkadian/Sumerian myth of Inanna's Descent to the Underworld, and Mayan myth of Ix Chel and Itzamna. The Nez Perce tell a story about the trickster figure, Coyote, that shares many similarities with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice The mytheme of not looking back, an essential precaution in Jason's raising of chthonic Brimo Hekate under Medea's guidance, is reflected in the Biblical story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom. The warning of not looking back is also found in the Grimms' folk tale •Hansel and Gretel•. More directly, the story of Orpheus is similar to the ancient Greek tales of Persephone captured by Hades and similar stories of Adonis captive in the underworld. However, the developed form of the Orpheus myth was entwined with the Orphic mystery cults and, later in Rome, with the development of Mithraism and the cult of Sol Invictus.
In the myth, Orpheus travels to the underworld to win back the life of Eurydice, who was bitten by a snake and died shortly after the two had wed. Hades allows Eurydice to return to Earth with Orpheus, on the condition that he walk in front of her and not look back during their journey; in his anxiety, Orpheus turns to look back at Eurydice and she vanishes forever. Focusing on ideas of creation, loss, conscience, and eternity, Chouinard’s version moves through the underworld using elements of experimental theatre, dramatic lighting, and powerful body movement.
The sinister and surreal world in Orpheus and Eurydice is created by Chouinard’s own lighting and set design, long-time collaborator Louis Dufort’s soundtrack, and minimal costumes by Vandal. Made up of some of the most physically accomplished dancers in the world, the Compagnie offers a compelling performance full of tension, emotion, and violence broken by moments of humor.
Born in Quebec City, Quebec, Chouinard early developed a sensational reputation with a series of brief dance vignettes such as 1978's Cristallisation, 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. In 1980, the Art Gallery of Ontario banned her because of a urination scene in Petite danse sans nom (Little dance without a name). She continued to flirt with scandal with 1981's Danseuse-performeuse cherche amoureux or amoureuse pour la nuit du 1er juin (Dancer-performer seeks male or female lover for the night of 1 June) in 1981, in which she auctioned herself off. and Marie Chien Noir in 1982, which showed masturbation.
After a successful career as a soloist, in 1990 she founded the Compagnie Marie Chouinard, in Montreal. Her company went on to tour internationally, and gain accolades. Notable were her performance of Rite of Spring, set to the score of Stravinsky and accompanied by Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a short performance set to the music of Debussy.
She has created more than 50 solo and group works, which focus on her view of dance as a sacred art; her respect for the body as a vehicle of that art; her virtuoso approach to performance; and the invention of a different universe for each new piece. In addition to being a top choreographer and theatrical producer, Chouinard is also a photographer, video-installation artist, and published poet. In 2008, Marie Chouinard was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, the country's highest honor for lifetime achievement, “for her contributions to modern dance as an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer.”
Marie Chouinard, Photo by Laurence Labat.
Marie Chouinard: Orpheus and Eurydice, Dancer: Carol Prieur, Photo by Michael Slobodian.