Meg Stuart
Damaged Goods
Jozef Wouters/Decoratelier
La Libre, Meg Stuart, Lion d’or à Venise, dans de nouveaux territoires - Guy Duplat (19.01.18) [ French ]
Le Vif, Trip à la sauce indonésienne - Estelle Spoto (24.01.18) [ French ]
La Libre, Meg Stuart, Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, tests new waters - Guy Duplat (19.01.18)
Mouvement, D'huile et d'eau - Sylvia Botella (30.01.18) [ French ]
Mouvement, Of oil and water - Sylvia Botella (30.01.18)

Of oil and water

Mouvement, Sylvia Botella, 30.01.18

The independent American choreographer Meg Stuart (2018 Golden Lion of the Biennale di Venezia / Dance) and Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto joined forces to create a work, titled Celestial Sorrow, making up their own rules as they went along. In it they celebrate the beauty of turmoil and of contradictions which meet but never mix, like two immiscible liquids.

Spectators should probably rely on their experience to interpret Celestial Sorrow, a collaboration between Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto. But to do this, you need a basic principle: you need to trust the singularity of your emotions and their value rather than ignore them. To be convinced of this principle, all the spectator must do is look at the opening scene-sequence: it is dizzying, causing the spectator to feel vertigo, a trance in a ‘happening’, that is ritualistic rather than ritualised. Because here dance is part and parcel of an infinite present, because heterogeneities exist, because the body breaks free as a result of a transformation, because the dancer (Jule Flierl, Gaëtan Rusquet or Claire Vivianne Sobottke) mainly seems to be danced, haunted as he or she is, when moving under ‘the celestial vault’ (the installation that Jompet Kuswidananto created), which is beautiful and fear-inspiring in equal measure.

Often a guttural sound or a gesture pops up where it is least expected, like memories, feelings or traumas that surge to the surface. Celestial Sorrow’s incomprehensible beauty solidly steers us away from mere narration. Our gaze is always captured by something else. Hence the unresolved turmoil the spectator experiences, when confronted with an individual who wants to express everything at the same time, or that evaporates to make way for a multitude of almost imperceptible small movements

The turmoil in itself is not fascinating but the pleasure that it provokes, linked to excessive emotions, even to a contradiction. Meg Stuart’s intelligence is apparent in the association of this pleasure with music (Mieko Suzuki, Ikbal Simamora Lubys), with dreamy light (Jan Maertens), with a sudden dissimulation or exposure of part of the body thanks to the costumes (Jean-Paul Lespagnard). So why do some images make more of an impression on us than others? Those in which the eroticised bodies seem glued to each other only to break away. Those in which the performer, arms raised as if connected with the whole of the universe, undulates in a trance. Whether you like it or not, there is something beautiful about this darkness. The mystery will remain unresolved, until blindness sets in perhaps.

Something inexorably breaks free, rising out above the meeting of these contradictions. Oddly enough it is both one and the other: Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto, Indonesia and the West, darkness and light, consciousness and the unconscious, nature and art, humanity and the universe. ‘A medium told us that Celestial Sorrow reminded him of oil and water’, says Gaëtan Rusquet. ‘And that it was a good thing that the various elements remained separate, that they were never mixed’. In Celestial Sorrow, the choreography is inspired by an endless quest. It shocks because of the combination of profound and scandalous deterritorialisation, with a heightened transcendence of identities (with queer nuances) and a community in celebration, that has created a scary form of experimentation, which, however, is never dissociated from the specific realities. The history of Indonesia is suddenly referenced, in a song called Hanti yang luka by Betharia Sonata, in the detail of a minor almost operatic form (the parade of a miniature truck). ‘In Indonesia the dictatorship banned the song Hanti yang luka because it was deemed too sad’, Gaëtan Rusquet explains. ‘It refers to the violence against women. Under the dictatorship there was no place for sadness or pain. By performing it as part of Celestial Sorrow, we have given this song a place to exist, to be free.’ Here the lyrics of Hanti yang luka break down the last resistance, dragging everyone along in its scintillating wake, in the purest of light, as if drawn in by a very naïve desire for an exalted ideal.

In Celestial Sorrow magnetism appears in its most poetic form: in the last scene, a few furtive gestures by a peacock-man makes us forget everything that happened, marking a return to order, before the confusion begins again perhaps. When the lights of Celestial Sorrow are switched on again, in all their harshness, all you can say is: this is exactly what I wanted to see on stage, a work like no other. Celestial Sorrow by Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto is all about the aura of a gesture that connects man with the universe, and finally with himself, in a multitude of ways.

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