Meg Stuart
Damaged Goods
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FRIEZE, Dance Moves - Astrid Kaminski (04/13)
BERLINER ZEITUNG, Es steht ein Saurier auf der Bühne - Michaela Schlagenwerth (12/01/13) [ German ]
WIENER ZEITUNG, Symphonie der Emotionen - Helene Binder (25/07/2013) [ German ]
HET THEATERFESTIVAL, Juryreport 2013 - (30/05/13)
TIP BERLIN, Sketchbook in motion - Dorion Weickmann (02/13)

Sketchbook in motion

Choreographer Meg Stuart was artist-in-residence at Hebbel am Ufer and performed two of her pieces there in January.

Every performing artist’s dream is to be given an empty theatre for a whole month, to gather a handful of colleagues and to rehearse with no particular goal. This dream came true for American choreographer Meg Stuart when HAU intendant Annemie Vanackere offered her exclusive use of the HAU 3. In the small black box of an attic room, the choreographer created Sketches/Notebook, a sort of chamber play. The XXL predecessor to Sketches/Notebook – Stuart’s monumental Built to Last, created in 2012 at the Münchner Kammerspiele – was performed in HAU’s main building shortly before the première of this smaller ‘mini’ production.

The experience of balancing a large project at a ‘civic theatre’ and an experimental project in HAU 3 was evidently to the congenial American’s taste. For years, she has been commuting between Brussels (the headquarters of her company, Damaged Goods) and Berlin, not to mention a whole host of other places while on tour.

In the meantime, Meg Stuart’s art, which is hard to pin down as merely art, has even won official recognition. She was recently awarded the Konrad-Wolf Prize by Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. Stuart describes this as a milestone in her career, for her 10-year old son at least. ‘Since then, he’s been coming to the studio, and he wants to become a dancer. It certainly gave him new confidence in his mother’s art!’

In her awards ceremony acceptance speech, Stuart spoke frankly. She summed herself up as a choreographer ‘who sometimes creates difficult pieces’. Which was very magnanimous and, at the same time, a way of forgiving all those who have walked out of her productions over the last twenty years. Indeed, since her European début Disfigure Study, which made a lasting impression at the Belgian Klapstuk Festival, dozens of spectators have walked out of her performances. On the other hand, there is also a die-hard community of fans and enthusiasts, who even heap praise on weaker works such as the fault lines (2010). Anyone who has been following Meg Stuart’s work over the years will have seen duds like this from time to time, just as they will have experienced wonderful moments like the recent Violet – a frontal attack on all the senses launched in 2011.

HAU intendant Annemie Vanackere has mentored Stuart’s career right from the start, and is convinced that ‘there is no one else who crosses and tears up boundaries so emphatically, and in so doing, places impressive sculptures of an interior life within a space.’ This was not the only reason that Vanackere offered the improvisation specialist the use of the HAU 3 as a workshop. After all, Stuart has been artistically homeless since her association with the Volksbühne ended in 2010.
In her wintry isolation, Stuart worked on Sketches/Notebook with a crew of nine performers in total peace. Unlike the performance Built to Last, which was supported by the huge infrastructure of a civic theatre, the attic room in HAU forced her to be modest in every way. It was this tight fit that stimulated the choreographer’s imagination, enabling her to get both feet back on the ground after the mega-production in Munich. ‘Large and small-scale performances have always been equally important to me. The contrast prevents you from becoming lazy. In the end, every work feels like a trek across the mountaintops – the thing you have only just built is then demolished. It’s always a paradoxical process.’

Sketches/Notebook is a programmatic title that not only stresses the fleeting moment, but also wants to get beneath the surface. ‘On the one hand, sketches are something very hurried and hastily composed, but they always capture the essence.’ The nine-strong team – five performers, musicians, a scenographer and a costume designer – conducted a graphic experiment with light and shadows. Just like designing a notebook. At the same time, Stuart once again wanted to ‘bring inner questions and conflicts out into the open’, thus remaining loyal to the leitmotiv that runs through her work. Behind this, as Stuart admits, is the wish to articulate the typical traits of modern life: a lack of freedom combined with a longing for communality. ‘Things are opening up,’ she believes, ‘we have lost all our certainties, but haven’t found the courage to try out other social models.’ No one can accuse her of being faint-hearted. Meg Stuart has always been a risk taker, and will always be aesthetically unpredictable.

Dorion Weickmann

Translation: Helen Simpson

UTOPIA PARKWAY, Kaleidoscopic sketchbook from outer space - Hans-Maarten Post (09/12/2013)

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