Montreal's Compagnie Marie Chouinard reinterprets classics to summon the spirit of Nijinsky at the Byham. | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Montreal's Compagnie Marie Chouinard reinterprets classics to summon the spirit of Nijinsky at the Byham.

A horned figure moves across a dimly lit stage with the stiff, flat look of the drawings on ancient Greek vases. The solo dancer, female, is costumed as a mythological faun, carnally drawn to fleeting beams of light (representing seven nymphs) that shine down upon the stage and disappear as she moves toward them.

The faun utters a series of guttural sounds before breaking off one of her horns -- and then attaching it, phallus-like, to her groin. The gesture is "a wink of an eye" to the role's originator, dance icon Vaslav Nijinsky, says Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard.

Chouinard's "Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun" (1994) is a 10-minute reinterpretation of Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un Faune (1912), set to the music of Claude Debussy. Nijinsky caused an uproar with his original performance, in which he writhed on stage as if he were making love. "Faun" is one of two Nijinsky-inspired works that Compagnie Marie Chouinard will perform Sat., April 4, at the Byham Theater.

"I think it very interesting for a woman to dance the role of the faun," says Chouinard by telephone from the company's studio, in Montreal. "Like Japanese kabuki dramas where the man dances the role of the woman and gets to the very essence of the female in attitude and movement. I think it a similar type of passage for a female to dance the role of a man."

Compagnie Marie Chouinard, which last performed in Pittsburgh in 2003, is a bold expression of Chouinard's contemporary dance sensibility -- one that blends avant-garde choreography with equally unique theatrical elements. That expression is perhaps nowhere better represented than in the other work on the April 4 program, 1993's The Rite of Spring.

One of Chouinard's most popular works, The Rite of Spring, is inspired less by Nijinsky's choreography for the 1913 ballet than by Igor Stravinsky's score.

"When you listen to Stravinsky's music there is no storyline," says Chouinard. "I created a piece that is very musical and connected to the score moment by moment."

Joining Stravinsky's music in the 50-minute work is composer Robert Racine's score "Signatures sonores," which features the sounds of scratching pens.

As seen in a DVD of the work, Chouinard creates a world where a group of primal beings react to the music and to one another.

"They are an undulating force between gravity and light that lives between the life force of the sky and earth," she says.

They are also males and females who dance bare-chested throughout the work.

"I like to represent the body like that," says Chouinard. "I like the Greek body in sculptures that is offered in its nudity but at the same time it is very graphic."

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Ballets Russes, where Nijinsky made his mark on the dance world. And there may be no better way to celebrate than with Compagnie Marie Chouinard's reinterpretation of two of his greatest works.


Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs "Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun" and The Rite of Spring 8 p.m. Sat., April 4. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19.50-40.50. 412-456-6666 or

Montreal's Compagnie Marie Chouinard reinterprets classics to summon the spirit of Nijinsky at the Byham.
Photo courtesy of Marie Chouinard.
Horny: Compagnie Marie Chouinard's "Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun"