By Steve Sucato
Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard says she has butterflies in her stomach over her latest work, “Gymnopédies.” That’s because when I spoke with her recently about the work that premiered in Lisbon, Portugal, this past June, she was still revising it.
“I am sure it will turn out good, but my stomach doesn’t know that yet,” joked Chouinard, by phone from Montreal.
With a successful 35-year career as a dancer and choreographer behind her, it is a good bet the work — which makes its U.S. premiere here Sept. 28, alongside 2011’s “Henri Michaux: Mouvements” — will meet her exacting standards.
Chouinard’s troupe, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, last performed in Pittsburgh in 2009. The troupe returns to the Byham Theater to launch both the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust‘s Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts and the new Pittsburgh Dance Council season.
“Gymnopédies,” set to music by pioneering French composer/pianist Erik Satie (1866-1925), is mostly a work of duets that Chouinard says explore “the intimacy and humor” of Satie’s music. The 11 dancers pull double duty: Not only do they dance, but each also takes a turn as pianist, playing one of the three short “gymnopédies” that are repeated over and over throughout the 34-minute contemporary dance work (which contains nudity).
“They are not professional pianists, but there is an intimacy and fragility about having them perform the music that I like,” says Chouinard.
Also making its U.S. premiere is “Henri Michaux: Mouvements,” a 35-minute cover-to-cover interpretation of Mouvements, the 1951 book from Belgian-born artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984). Chouinard says she discovered the book of abstract India-ink drawings and poetry in 1980, but began thinking of it as the basis for a dance work only several years ago.
Set to an original score by composer Louis Dufort, the work’s dancers, costumed in black and dancing on a white floor, interpret in movement 64 of Michaux’s drawings that are projected on a screen behind them.
“They are like a snapshot of movement,” says Chouinard. “The drawings are very expressive and animated and you can sense movement in them.”
Chouinard says she choreographed every aspect of the book into her work, including its covers; Michaux’s 15-page poem; his postface (which the dancers recite); and even a blank page, for which Chouinard says she instructed her dancers to hide beneath the dance floor.
Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 28. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-$55. 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org.
This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper September 25, 2013. Copyright Steve Sucato.