Meg Stuart
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VOICE, Little Ease - Burt Supree (03/12/1991)

Meg Stuart, who graduated from NYU’s Tisch school of Arts in 1986 and has been dancing with Randy Warshaw since then, was spurred to her first full-evening piece, Disfigure Study, by a commission from the Klapstuk Festival in Leuven, Belgium. At the Kitchen, violinist/composer Hahn Rowe’s harsh, dark-grained music, performed live, gave unrelieved weight, perhaps too much, and intense, tightly focused lighting by Warshaw isolated the dancers in the gloomy void.

Some of the piece’s five section are narrow but elaborate studies like the opener, in which Francisco Camacho dangles his feet: letting his legs twist, his feet caress each other. (Above the knees his body vanishes in blackness.) Lying below him, Carlota Lagido strains to lift her head and chest, presses her cheek against his feet, rubs against his ankles, like the devotee of a moldering saint. In the closing section, the same two (both from Portugal) stand close to each other, facing in opposite directions, and he rudely runs his hand over her flesh – face, breasts, belly, legs – probing her with ignorant haste. Stiff and submissive, stifling her responses, she hardly moves. Rarely she gets so distressed that she plucks his hand of her. Yet she’ll replace it as if any touch were better than none, as if to instruct him that human contact can be something other than this blind tactile greed.

In the in-place solo that opens that section, Lagido gobbles her hand, lets her crab fingers creep along her body and snag under her arm. There’s a nearly fanatical, medieval sense that the body is a loathsome burden, a curse, something to be cast off. In the fraught, erratic adjustments, the urgent pulls to destroy the body’s symmetry, is portrayed as a deep, terrible, shaming awkwardness.

Stuart’s exhaustive, self-protective solo also evidences this physical unhappiness in the persistent twisting of the body, the way parts of it get stuck on other parts, the way more vigorous movement erupts spasmodically. Her head snuggles against her shoulder comfortlessly, the shoulder is jammed to the chin, she pushes again the back of her rib cage, all as if trying to find a bodily configuration that provides some ease. She suddenly drops, drops, drops to one side as if her bones were jelly. Or slips out of positions she’s momentarily locked into. Or flails and slashes her arms with floppy force. There are no shortcuts: Stuart takes us through every step of her painful, mechanical process.

A duet with Lagido – in which Stuart holds, drops, catches, twists Lagido’s head, slings her around, hauls her close, drags her like a rag doll – is hard-nosed in the same punishing way. Lagido gives herself over beautifully to this brand of manhandling, letting her body follow unquestioningly Stuart’s wrenchings. Yet to trust such obsessed manipulation, to allow oneself to be so totally a toy, is a kind of idiocy.

The urgent fourth section is the dramatic focus of the evening, the most layered in complexity, and satisfyingly dynamic. Camacho, compact and eloquent, methodically holds himself, snakes his arms close to his body, falls with gusto, swiftly collapses. In the back, in very dim light, Stuart and Lagido roll, push up, roll, un unison. Then, while Camacho lies pretzeled on the floor, Stuart struggles toward him, doubling, folding, heaving her body across the floor, deprived of the proper use of her limbs. Whenever she gets next to him, he rolls away, flees faster and faster, and she follows, scrambling after, sliding, throwing herself, floundering like a fish on the deck of a boat, frantic for air. There’s a kind of acid joy in her determination.

But it’s failure that absorbs Stuart- the body’s stubborn, fumbling thickness, its sticky desires and cruel inefficacies. And everyone is shown as damaged goods.

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