Marie Chouinard, The Golden Mean (Live)


I‘ve been feeling guilty. Last year, back in November, I saw THE GOLDEN MEAN (LIVE) (yeah, I don’t like things that are all in capital letters either… But that’s how she spells it) one of the newer creations by Marie Chouinard. I wanted to write about it, but then got hung up in the humorous verse cycle I wrote about the Quebec Triennial. By the time I had finished that, it was the beginning of January 2012, and the absolute need to write about a performance I had seen almost three months prior was more like a theoretical and potential concept than a valid reality.

But then on Friday I had a Marie Chouinard day. I first saw her at the DHC Art Foundation’s exhibit Chronicles of a Disappearance (more on that in a separate article, in short go hang out on the fourth floor for at least 30 minutes, Ms. Chouinard didn’t) in the afternoon. And then saw her at the performance of Je” by Dominique Porte (also more on that in a separate article) that night. But this time, Ms. Chouinard had to stick around for the entire performance because Dena Davida sat down right next to her and it would have been kind of awkward to leave in the middle of the performance – this is not to imply that the only reason Ms. Chouinard stuck around was because of Ms. Davida, because Je is pretty gosh darn good, but every other time that I have been in a black box with Ms. Chouinard watching something artistic, she has bolted long before the performance was over, unless it was one of her’s. But I digress.

Then I kept thinking about her participation in The Big Bang at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and figure now is as good of a time as any to spill what’s been inside of me on and about The Golden Mean (Live).
So before I forget how, first a bit of humorous verse about

Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live)

Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live)
Might have been better if done as a shuck and jive.
Real Pixar lamps, some video screens and masked dancers
Lead to more questions than answers.

Zombies stretching” is how I described the dancers movements
There are numerous things that I can think of that would make for improvements.
The only thing I really liked was the woman with the four sided mask
It was almost as good as the art of Karen Trask.

I‘ll have more to say, not in rhyme, but in prose
Somehow rhyming is difficult when holding your nose.

It actually wasn’t that horrible. It’s just that when writing in rhyming couplets I tend to make everything black or white. No shades of gray, whatsoever. It isn’t like I walked out in the middle of the performance or anything.

But getting to the meat of the matter, I imagine that somewhere Ms. Chouinard believes in her heart that The Golden Mean (Live) is truly saying something. Unfortunately it is in a language that I have an extremely hard time understanding.

In French the title is Le nombre d’or (Live) which really translates into English as The Golden Ratio (Live), not the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean has more to do with Nicomachean Ethics, whereas The Golden Ratio is 1.6180339887… referred to in most of the literature in the press kit (yes, Virginia, I do occasionally get press kits).

Also in perusing the press kit, while the piece itself may be named after a mathematical principle (A+B is to A, as A is to B) the piece itself doesn’t seem to be as rigorous. I read reviews where it was danced by 10 dancers in one place and 11 dancers in another and in Montreal there were a total of 14 dancers on stage. And as long as I’m going on about the press kit, there were nine photocopied articles in Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch. I’m not entirely certain what the point was. While I’d like to think of myself as a polyglot, in fact I am really just an old and fat opinionated American, commonly referred to as a Tête carrée here in Quebec. The idea that I can really understand four other languages, when I have a hard enough time wrapping my tongue around la langue de Moliere is just kind of silly and a waste of paper.

As long as I am nitpicking, according to Ms. Chouinard the dancers put on masks of the head of state of whatever country they are performing in. But it seems that when they were in Amsterdam last summer someone forgot to tell them that Jan Peter Balkenende had been defeated and resigned, and while technically still Prime Minister, was not the man in charge. It also might account for why it wasn’t performed in Brussels.

And while the catwalk is integral to the performance, in order to, as she told Catherine Lalonde of Le Devoir, get the dancers as close as possible to the audience, to literally penetrate the theatre. [J’avais envie de voir les danseurs au plus pres du public, de faire pénétrer dans l’espace de la salle.] But when it was preformed in Venice there was no catwalk, and it is because of that performance that Tanz magazine named Carole Prieur dancer of the year.

So obviously when you (or I) go to see The Golden Mean (Live), what you see and what I see are not going to be the same thing. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good or a bad thing.

If you’d like to see a 13 minute video of Ms. Chouinard describing how The Golden Mean (Live) was made and what’s it about, click on this (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to embed it).

But enough about the background and the nitpicking over details gleaned from the press kit. What about the dance itself? And the even more importantly the dancers? I’d love to be able to tell you what Mark Eden-Towle, Eve Garnier, Benjamin Kamino, Leon Kuperschmid, Lucy M. May, Lucie Mongrain, Mariusz Ostrowski, Carol Prieur, Gérard Reyes, Dorotea Saykaly and James Viveiros did and how they moved. But unfortunately since they were all masked, I have no freaking clue as to who did what. Although after the fact I did realize that it was Carol Prieur who did the unmasked solo.

Depending on where we are in the performance, the dancers are either all wearing some moth-eaten blonde wig with a kind of plastic face shield, occasionally with some hipster glass frames. Or they are wearing photographs of people that have been glued to something like foamcore to keep it rigid. There’s one set that was all Stephen Harper, another set that was a bunch of “old people,” and a third that was all of infants.

It was the infants that I particularly didn’t like, as when the dancers were wearing those masks, they were completely naked. My first thought was did Ms. Chouinard get permission from the parents of the infants before slapping their faces on masks? My second thought was what’s the point? When they had the masks of the infants on, nobody did much of anything. If it was for shock value, it didn’t work at the performance I was at. If it was to make the audience uncomfortable, I’m fairly certain that there were some people in the audience who were made uncomfortable, but it wasn’t a majority, and most people were very polite about it.

Then much later, I went to see The Big Bang at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (I told you that I’d get around to it) in which Ms. Chouinard had some work. That work was four photographs of her dancers with the infant masks on. Apparently she was influenced by an incense burner which she likened to developing genitalia of fetuses. One of the many problems with it was that the crotches of the dancers were very much obscured. Using the lingo of the day, it was a #totalfail. It was made even curiouser because there is a dancer in The Golden Mean (Live) who imitates Marc Quinn’s sculpture Sphinx (Road to Enlightenment) which is at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal.

Marc Quinn's Sphinx (Road to Enlightenment)
Marc Quinn's Sphinx (Road to Enlightenment)

Then at another point, some of them suck in their stomachs just like the statue by Mr. Quinn, and it isn’t pretty. So while the museum asked her to be influenced by a piece that they have (I think it’s a loan, and not part of the permanent collection) she just got confused or something. Another thing that struck me about the masks that were pictures of faces, was that for whatever reason, she had not chosen the picture of anyone who wasn’t Caucasian.

As I mentioned in the verse, an awful lot of the dancing was what I would liken to zombie stretching. Sometimes there was some undulating and Carole Prieur’s solo was what I called “tribal” or “voodoo.” There were a couple of times when two dancers would do something that suggested sex, but was more violent than erotic.

No matter how hard I tried, I really couldn’t put a finger on anything that would unify the whole piece. It didn’t come across as movement for movement’s sake. It sure as shooting didn’t have a plot. There weren’t any incredibly breathtakingly beautiful moments (or movements). In writing this, I am struck how it seems to me as a disparate collection of things that Ms. Chouinard wanted to copy. From the Pixar lamps, to the Quinn statue, I can easily see how each scene could have been copped from some image that she had taken, and then most fruit these days, grafted on to the performance.

It would be an interesting exercise to go through Ms. Chouinard’s sketch book (or the equivalent) while watching The Golden Mean (Live), it would kind of like this:

So there you have it. The Golden Mean (Live) isn’t a bad piece, it’s more of a blah piece. Nothing remarkable, good or bad. it sort of sits in my memory taking up space, and with a little luck that memory will inform future stuff better and worse.