Compagnie Marie Chouinard captivates Vancouver Playhouse with Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights

After the 500-year anniversary of the artist’s death (in 2016), Bosch was honoured in this entrancing dance show

Image courtesy of Murray Paterson Marketing Group

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, Peak Associate


Hieronymus Bosch’s surrealist triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights has been marvelled at for its imaginative details. With Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s choreography, it lets the public experience the spirit of the painting through a unique dance performance full of raw humanity and emotion.

In the pre-show talk, Annie Gagnon, the rehearsal director of CMC, encouraged us to “feel” what is happening on the stage instead of trying to understand it or analyze it. Going into the show with this in mind, I found my senses absolutely mesmerized and exhausted by the intense performance on stage.

The show began with a stage-wide projection of Bosch’s triptych. They began with the panels folded, then opening and zooming into the centre panel, The Garden of Delights. However, this wasn’t the most interactive part of the visual component; there were two circular projections on the left and right edges of the stage, zoomed in even further to a specific detail in the painting being shown on stage then.

These visual components shifted along with the dancers’ movements and also connected the performance to the painting every step of the way, but proved to be distracting. The dancers were mainly nude and painted in white head to toe, leaving traces of their body paint on the floor of the stage. Although there was music and sound to accompany the choreography, it was clear that the painting was the main muse and focus.  

The choreography was split into three acts in accordance to the original three panels of the triptych; The Garden of Delights (central panel), Hell (right panel), and Paradise (left panel) in that respective order.

The first act was whimsical and comical. It depicted scenes of pleasure, overabundance, and careless delight, but was far from calming. The dance depicted the chaos and devilry of the centre panel through obsessive, repetitive, and odd body movements and facial expressions.

The second panel, Hell, was unsettling, agonizing, and increasingly chaotic. It was unassuming at first, the set being made up of household items, but with the dancers screaming and snarling to the creepy sound effects that went along with their contortionistic choreography, the whole scene was enough to just about stop your heart.

The third act, Paradise, was serene, ethereal and beautiful, which was an eerie contrast to the previous act. The image shown on the panel was of Adam, Eve, and Jesus, repeated and stretched out — ever present in the choreography of the last act.

‘Paradise’ ended with the dancers moving as a group to slowly exit the stage, but not before dancing in the directly in front of the projection — where their bodies were camouflaged into the green image of the grass in the painting, their arms reaching towards where the image of Adam, Eve, and Jesus was projected.

Each dancer expressed individuality in their facial expression and body movements but often came together as a group. They all demonstrated an unparalleled synchronicity and rhythm: even when they were dancing separately, you could see that they were communicating with their bodies to gracefully share the stage. They moved in response to one another, and often mirrored each other.

I felt that the theme of the performance was the complex condition of humanity, and in the bizarreness of it all, an intimate narrative of the painting’s spirit. It didn’t feel like the main point of the choreography was to imitate the painting, but rather to process it, which in itself is its own masterful work of art. The audience was given an opportunity to watch the dancers process this painting piece by piece and communicated it to us through their bodies.

Through raw vulnerability and sensual stimulation, Compagnie Marie Chouinard presented an inimitable experience completely deserving of its roaring standing ovations.