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Marie Chouinard brings Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych to life in her grand return to the Israeli Opera House

The Garden of Earthly Delights
© Nicolas Ruel

There's nothing garden variety about Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard or her newest creation: "The Garden of Earthly Delights." In her three-act piece, based on Bosch's eventful triptych, the choreographer marries dance with drama to produce a tantalizing experience for the dancers, audience, and humankind. We tapped into Chouinard's movements, motives, and motifs fueling the 75-minute work, as delightful as its name suggests.


Where did the work's first seeds of inspiration stem from?


The inspiration comes entirely from the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, titled “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The painting is divided into three panels, each holding a different universe: a paradise where the idea of ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ does not exist, a universe focused on human creation and activity, set in Inferno, and a final universe that tells the origin story of man and woman together in a very idealistic setting, Heaven. I have organized the choreography into three consecutive acts (without intermissions), starting with the central panel, moving onto the right panel [Hell] for Act II, before finishing with the left panel [Heaven].


Your work spawns from an inert painting. How do you translate that stillness to movement on stage?


In this case, the 'still' object is filled with movement. We see so many bodies in Bosch’s painting, especially in the center panel, and they’re all in different positions. I took pleasure in finding the possible links from one position to another.


For the second panel [Hell], my approach was very different. I didn’t exactly focus on human positions, but rather on the idea of human actions and behaviors that are very daring and totally free and violent–like creation can be.


For the final panel [Heaven], there are only three bodies in the original painting. The whole construction started from their soft, simple positions, which are repeated in different angles and orientations to create this atmosphere of a ‘voyage’ into that dimension of profound intelligence.


The Garden of Earthly Delights

© Sylvie-Ann Paré

Your works have been described as "daring." How might this specific piece answer to that adjective?


You don’t need to do much to be daring. Being alive is daring; writing is daring; raising a child is daring; creation is daring. It's all about belief. For a seed to sprout into a magnificent tree, you have to believe. Similarly, in order to grow, you have to believe that you want to be alive, that you’re worth it.


You are also responsible for lighting, props, and costumes. It's very ambitious to take on so much of the production.


It’s fun! I’m not only a choreographer, I’m a creator and I love being a creator. For me, it’s a joy. It’s natural to create all of the aspects when realizing a work, holistic even.

I am very curious about this giant, plastic bubble.


In each of the three panels of Bosch’s painting, you'll find this consistent spherical structure—you’re not sure if it’s a castle or an organic event or the belly of a woman— but it’s round, it’s circular, it’s big, and it’s there. So, in addition to the bodies of the dancers, this “bubble of life” is a key reference to the painting.

The Garden of Earthly Delights

© Nicolas Ruel

Do you remember the exact moment you fell in love with creating?


I was already a well-trained dancer before I discovered the art of creation and it came out of an accident of fate. At 21, I wasn’t sure what to do with my life, all I knew was that I loved taking my dance classes. It was never my intention to become a choreographer, it just happened. And I thank God every day for that. When I finished my first choreography, I thought to myself, “What do I do now?” So I created another. Afterwards, I asked myself the same dramatic question, so I created another…and another…and it went on like that for 17 years. After 17 years, I told myself, “You need to stop asking yourself what you’re doing with your life. You’re doing it!”                                                                             

How would you encourage human beings (not merely dancers) to become more united with their bodies?


Breathing! They say that breathing is the most well kept secret. It’s the basis of everything. It’s the first thing a meditation master, vocal coach, dance teacher, or even a swimmer would tell you. We need to be more conscious of every one of our breaths. Breathing bring us back to the basis of our reality on this planet—both spiritual and physical.


Nov 6-8. The Israeli Opera House, 19 Shaul Hamelech St, Tel Aviv (03-6927777). For the full details, check out the event.


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