Marie Chouinard finds delight in the work of Hieronymus Bosch

A scene from Hieronymous Bosch by the Compagnie Marie Chouinard. Dancers are Morgane Le Tiec, Sacha Ouellette-Deguire, Carol Prieur, Leon Kupferschmid, Sébastien Cossette-Masse, Megan Walbaum. Photo: Nicolas Ruel

Marie Chouinard’s choreography called Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights is a rarity in her career.

That’s because the world-renowned Montreal-based choreographer seldom derives a dance out of another piece of art.

“I never create from music or a painting. Those are exceptional works if I do. Most of the time I start from the body itself in silence. Later comes the music. Later comes the visual creation with costumes.”

Still, she loved working with the famous triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th century painter whose panels often feature fantastic creatures and people engaged in very … ahem … earthy situations.

She was asked to do a work based on Bosch by a Dutch company to mark the 500th anniversary of the Flemish painter’s death in 1516.

She chose to model a dance after his most famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights which is on view in Madrid, Spain in the Prado museum.

The three panels feature the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve welcomed by a God figure, a central panel of humans cavorting in innocent pleasure and a third panel which is basically Hell featuring a slightly smiling self-portrait of Bosch watching the torments of his fellow humans.

Chouinard says she saw the painting in an exhibition of his works just before the premiere of the dance in Holland. The painting had been restored. “His original colours were luminous. I had a vision of them as being darker but when they are restored the colours are vibrating. It looked like it had been painted recently. There is a lot of freedom in his colours and in his paintings.”

For her The Garden of Earthly Delights is proposing three different worlds. For a person who explores the physicality of the human body in her works, these three different settings of the physical form “are so different one from the other it is a gift for a creator to work from that.

“I could see that I had three acts and this is how the piece is presented.

In the panel that many believe is Hell, “the more I was working on it the more I realized that it’s really about life as it is on the planet. In the middle of it you have the face of Bosch himself watching everything around him. He pictured himself in his world.

“It was present for him 500 years ago. It remains present for us 500 years later,” because Bosch’s Hell shows human activities including art. There are books, sculpture and musical instruments.

The middle panel shows people peacefully enjoying life’s pursuits in a joyful celebration of the senses.

In her dance “I thought that I would work from the human bodies portrayed in each of the paintings, not the little devils. I just concentrated my work on the human figures; their positions, their way of moving, their way of being, imagining what would be the next movement from that body position.

“Bosch is really someone I would like to meet. He has such a mix of humour and compassion and generosity.”

There is music composed for the piece by her longtime collaborator Louis Dufour which has a very modern sensibility.

Her company will do another performance as part of Canada Scene, this time outside the National Gallery of Canada.

It’s called, she said, with an ironic chuckle, IN MUSEUM.

The performance will feature two dancers. As Chouinard describes it, “they are available to the audience. People can talk to one of dancers about their innermost desires. And the dancer will create a spontaneous dance based on the wish of the person.” This goes from one wish to another for about two hours, she says. “The rest of the audience doesn’t hear what the person has whispered to the dancer. It’s a secret.”

Her company does this regularly. It started about five years ago, she says, when she would perform a three hour solo taking suggestions from audiences around the world.

“Now I’m giving it to the dancers to do.”

IN MUSEUM breaks down the invisible barrier between dancers and audience, she says.

“When you watch this and when you experience the dance you understand it from your gut, from the poetic aspect of your soul. You connect with it. This is what I hope to do to share this human experience.

The performance of The Garden of Earthly Delights is part of a festival within the Canada Scene festival called Scene Makers which features shows by artists who are said to push and blur the boundaries of that often surround creation. And after the show on July 14, there will be a party in the lobby of the NAC called Scene-O-Rama that is free to the public. It features performances by DJ Memetic, Jesse Stewart, Guy Maddin, BoucharDanse, Fortier Danse-Création, The Brothers Plaid, battery opera performance, Lilith & Cie, The Windows Collective and Gabriel Dharmoo.

The Garden of Earthly Delights
Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Canada Scene/Canada Dance Festival
Where: Babs Asper Theatre
When: Friday July 14 at 8 p.m.

Canada Scene
Where: National Gallery of Canada grounds
When: July 15 at 2 p.m.
Free to the public

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.