Meg Stuart dances with her ghosts
In her first evening-length solo, Meg Stuart takes her body to the stage as an archive of memories, both of family life and her artistic career. In Hunter, running from 28 to 30 January at the Teatro Maria Matos, the choreographer and dancer is both the hunter and the prey.
There are sure to be a large number of respectable studies (from those who propose one thing, to the opposite, or the coexistence of both) arguing that anyone who finds themselves alone seeks immediate solace in the radio or television. There will even be those who argue that radio or television would be enough to remove the solitude from that equation. When we see Meg Stuart alone on stage playing out this game in which she is both hunter and prey, chasing her own tail in circles (“maybe all this makes me look a bit silly”, she laughs), it is not a solitary act. For the choreographer and dancer whose solos had, until now, only been short exercises in a break between two longer pieces (the sort that clean the palate or reset the timer before continuing the journey), Hunter is too populous a piece for any trace of solitude to be felt in the solo. In fact, Hunter is quite the opposite: a body used as an archive of real and fictional memories; a head flooded with voices; a reconstruction of her entire personal cartography for a stage on which, only with great lack of imagination, we will see only Meg Stuart.
“There is a lot of material in this piece and I am summoning voices, in a way”, she explains to Ípsilon. Sometimes, these are perfectly audible to the audience, including those of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs or an aunt, mixing the family history that she discovered when digging back seven generations (as suggested by a shaman) with a host of artists that helped to shape her movement. At other times, those voices are barely discernible and yet capable of suggesting references that are essentially presumed to be to Jonas Mekas, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown or Miranda July. Hunter “works as a series of self-portraits”, beginning with a collage of images, cut-ups and visual devices that Stuart uses to build the map on which she will go on to dance. In some sense, the piece is summarised in that idea: calling all possible pasts to the stage in order to perceive what Meg Stuart’s movement is made up of today, and to access them all without any obvious nexus. “For two years, I worked with a lot of people, using other people’s vocabulary, shaping their material and their movements”, she explains. “Then I became curious, after such a long period of time, to see how I was moving and how they all influenced this journey I have made with my work. I felt that while I have the energy and interest to perform, it was a good way to put Damaged Goods [her company] and my creative process into perspective.”
With Hunter, Meg Stuart is putting herself into the development of her own discourse. She has thought of and defined the body as a repository of memories for a long time, but never before has she taken this belief so literally and to such an extreme. Looking at her body and her movement as an archive, she decided to amplify and delve into it as far as possible. “I began to talk to my parents; look at photos of them; uncover our family history and the fictional elements that interested me; think about my cultural and artistic heroes; things that I liked to do when I was younger; music that influenced me…”, and all of this built up into a whole muddle of tracks which she lays out freely on stage.
Explosion of narratives
In Built to Last, Meg Stuart’s previous creation, the idea of the archive already fascinated her, only at that time it was her musical archive to which she was attuned. By moving into the personal domain, the choreographer is identifying a possible response to this previous piece; another form of digging down to try and see herself more clearly. It was in these excavations that Stuart found herself looking at a diary filmed by the Lithuanian filmmaker, Jonas Mekas: “a strange video about the importance of changing your opinion, in which he tells a story about Paris Hilton, saying that he believes in her and likes the way she talks about change.” Meg Stuart was ensnared by Mekas; she started following what he published and the filmmaker became “a sort of godfather, someone who helped bring the piece together.” He even authorised her to use the audio from that diary entry in which he talks about popular (and political) condemnation of changes in opinion, arguing that they are in fact symptomatic of a healthy character. “Change is not a bad thing” repeats Stuart, “it is the absence of change that is bad.”
In investigating her own choreographic language and what makes it flesh, Meg Stuart accepts the idea of transformation and uncertainty about her present. It is not a coincidence that, as well as following on from Built to Last, Hunter is also the fruit of the last five years spent working with the playwright Jeroen Peeters on the book ‘Are We Here Yet?’, about her career with Damaged Goods. Although Peeters has helped her in this “memory hunt”, one of the attractions of this creation was in fact in interrupting the interpretation of her movements, rhythms, materials and proposals by third parties (dancers). “In terms of choreography, perhaps it is a more advanced piece; it is possible that I simplify things by using dancers”, she says. Hunter therefore dispenses with the need to establish an order that others can share and work with; it does not appear concerned with defining a collective environment. Rather, it is about a sudden plunge into Meg Stuart’s chaotic, random and unbridled thoughts. “It is not easy to do. It is very cryptic and difficult to follow in the sense that I do not adopt a narrative”, she explains. “Americans always want to tell their life story and I am not doing that at all. It is a piece with many layers to it: an explosion of narratives.”
Creating a personal piece does not mean adopting a confessional tone, but Hunter does dedicate a block to the spoken record, which Meg Stuart has never tried before and in which she shares some “aspects” of her life, “although casually, without any theatricality”. “The power of language compared with movement is strange”, she marvels. “We can kill ourselves three times on stage, but say anything and it has another effect – it realises the desire for a personal relationship with the audience, moving from being an encounter to a desire for us to connect with each other.” This is something that does not displease her. In fact, Meg Stuart is amused by the idea that Hunter could seem like an excessive narcissistic obsession, simply because around her – somewhat as strange as it is cosy – there are always several ghosts following her every move.