Meg Stuart mistrusts words. She says so herself. If you don’t want to, or cannot, stay silent, you had better take your time. It is worth trying to use many words, and expressing them as if each were of equal importance. You can incorporate images, sounds, movements and materials in this. You can show a great deal of all sorts of things behind, beside and layered on top of one another; mix fiction and truth, documents and moods, memories and dreams, the visible and the invisible, your own thoughts and those of others. The key thing about Hunter is its idiosyncrasy, which it approaches in multiple phases. Or rather, the opportunity to get to know Meg Stuart’s idiosyncrasy. Meg Stuart as an artist, as a woman, and as a human being invites us to discover the world from the perspective of her questions and positions, but at the same time, to understand their origins. ‘I think that changing one’s mind is one of the best things there is’ we hear Jonas Mekas’ voice assert, more than an hour and a half into the performance. This is easy, indeed very easy to understand.
For over twenty years, Meg Stuart has been working in the fields of dance and theatre on projects with a wide variety of forms and performance formats. However, Hunter is the first solo she has created for herself that is designed to fill a whole evening. The idea of a solo, especially in the field of dance, can rapidly lead you astray. Hunter certainly does not herald Meg Stuart’s conversion to the small scale. Her announcement that she intends to study her body as if it were an archive is also misleading. Body memory, so personal and difficult to share, is Meg Stuart’s starting point in a search for hope, community and utopias. One can argue in many respects that Hunter is major piece and leans towards a Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art].
In addition to the choreography on the stage, a number of other artists were involved with Hunter. The dramaturge Jeroen Peeters provided the audience with two pages of text that are very much worth reading and keeping. The text contains all sorts of expressions of the creative process, and draws on the ideas of Charlotte Selver, Yoko Ono, Miranda July and many others. The sound designer Vincent Malstaf designed a collage of sounds, lieder (chiefly from the 80s) and electronic music. This provides a structure for the performance and also perhaps for the house in which Meg Stuart paces about. It is an overcrowded house that does not actually do anything, apart from continually recounting stories. This both amuses and disturbs us. It alternates between silence and howling. The scenographer Barbara Ehnes constructed a giant sculpture made of extra large craft materials on the HAU2 stage. And sure enough, the evening begins with a glitter, moss and photo collage of Meg Stuart herself. The costume designer Claudia Hill worked on the same principle: there must be a lot of everything, meanings cannot be pinned down into fixed categories, and every phase of the performance demands that the performer be presented differently. The lighting designer Jan Maertens shaped the opening or (protective) closing off of the stage, and the possibilities of seeing and being seen. And last but not least, the video artist Chris Kondek used the three projection surfaces for a montage of photos and video recordings. He created a composition using clippings, raw material, and overlapping images, often of people and often of landscapes. Although it actually revolves around autobiographical documents, outsiders, who know nothing and no one, do not understand its true character.
Hunter’s décor is both playful and secretive, a rhizome. There is apparently no hierarchical structure between the elements and their meanings. Coincidentally, what this world shows and tells us is just like the world in our heads. At the same time, the evening is highly structured. A well-prepared programme comes to fruition, and the décor does not obscure this.
Phase one: handicraft session with Meg Stuart, live broadcast of detailed recordings, private- and other photos, and manipulation of the visual material. Later, Meg Stuart says: ‘I don’t believe that my father still has a good memory, because he’s forever telling his stories over and over again.’ It is some time before we see Meg Stuart’s face. She stands, walks, kneels down, does not dance and does not look in front of her. And even when she does look at the audience, we can barely see her face. Hair, hands or arms block our view. The first movements look like clichés, or extremely compact extracts from her own choreographies. In the meantime, she gives the impression of being distraught. She paces about.
Phases three and four, or five; in any case the final one: Meg Stuart gets dressed again. Eventually, at last, she has really danced. In silence, she improvises with dance material and changes her expression numerous times. For specific, extremely short moments, she is totally relaxed and happy. There is a lot you could say about this. But now only the following can be said: everything that happened up to this moment was necessary. So Meg Stuart can now put on a lifejacket and pin on a microphone. The first thing we hear her say is: ‘I am shy.’ Anyone who has known her for a while … hmm … still thinks so. Meg Stuart as an entertainer. Surprising. She goes on to talk in an increasingly less desperate way about all sorts of things. She makes no distinction between the intimate and the public, between the banal and the visionary. She asks about our future. There is nothing to suggest that there is any kind of calculation behind her words. This is not often the case, and it is thus extraordinary. It touches us, but in a totally unsentimental way – and will also irritate some people. It was a very special evening, a gift.
Translation Helen Simpson