Meg Stuart
Damaged Goods
Jozef Wouters/Decoratelier
TANZQUARTIERWIEN, Real walls to deal with - Hanna Palme, Michael-Franz Woels (13.02.2011)
LA TERRASSE, "Les danseurs vivent une transmutation" - Gwénola David (07/2011) [ French ]
THE BULLETIN, Non-shrinking Violet - Oonagh Duckworth (22/09/2011)

Non-Shrinking VIOLET. Propelled by loud sound and booming silence, Meg Stuart’s new choreography channels pent-up energies – natural, musical and alchemical – and slams with the force of a tsunami

Even though she’s won a Bessie award and her work has inspired erudite analyses, and even though if she’s lauded as a figurehead on the international dance scene, American-born Brussels-based choreographer Meg Stuart remains a mutineer within the establishment. She’s an intrepid artistic explorer and a charismatic character to whom other adventuring artists are attracted.

It all began 1991 with Disfigure Study, her first evening-length choreography during which she twisted and distorted herself in the semi-darkness. The piece was a smack in the eye for a small but select audience in Leuven. It launched her international career and gave her a foothold in Belgium, which soon became her base.

Since then, each work has dealt a different challenge, a new obsession and more risks. Stuart continuously reformulates irresolvable, essential questions about our plight as contemporary beings. In so doing she can drench a performer in water, have dancers in rollers-skates stumble down steep steps or cast herself as a distraught hobo seeking her soul on a carpeted mountain. Although her extensive body of work attests that she is now a grand dame of dance, her unruly blonde crop and intense, slightly truculent stare, still give her, at 45, the air of a mischievous ringleader kid on the block.

In her latest performance, VIOLET, Stuart once again ventures into the unknown. She has banished the social-emotional issues that have coloured her previous pieces in order to concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract. Over and above a theatrical event, Violet is an intense sensorial experience for the audience. Brendan Dougherty, the composer, sits on stage behind a drum kit and produces a dense wall of electronic and percussive sound through which five performers ceaselessly progress, at times painstakingly, at others frenetically. The sensation is simultaneously startling, liberating and harrowing for spectators and performers alike. As usual with Stuart’s work, indifference is not an option.

“The trigger was a video by the artist Francis Alÿs*, where he walks into a tornado,” Stuart told me in August, after VIOLET’s performance in Berlin. “I wanted to give myself the challenge of stripping things right down and, by taking movement as the starting point, feel what abstraction can do. But I didn’t want to make something analytical and cold; I still strongly believe in theatre’s power to communicate to an audience. I began looking at energetic patterns in nature and at alchemic symbols that today have lost their meaning but are still charged with innate sense. We tried transposing the symbols onto the body through movement and infusing them with human intensity. I wanted to think in terms of the dancers being on a ritualistic journey. They are five voices that can be heard simultaneously but that never fall into unison. Each dancer moves using a physical vocabulary unique to themselves; they look for energetic solutions and struggle with endurance and their own possibilities and limitations.”

“The work does not have a specific theme,” she continues, “but I remember one particularly significant rehearsal. We’d been playing with ideas of trying to harness kinetic energy and imagining the havoc it could wreak; we’d been thinking about corrosion, coagulation, things mounting up. One of the dancers was preparing to leave on holiday for Japan and then, suddenly, the tsunami struck. I don’t say the piece is about that, but certainly outside events affected the work somehow.”

“The music is also very important and frames what the dancers do. Brendan got involved in the work on a very profound level, never missing a rehearsal. The sound gets very loud during the first forty-five minutes of the performance, after which the silence is resounding. It’s felt almost physically by the audience.”

And the title? “Violet is the last colour in the spectrum, before ultra violet light, before the unknown, before the imperceptible. I like that notion. Plus, it could be a good name for a rock band. That’s a bit how we feel,” she laughs, “like we’re giving a hard core rock and roll concert rather than a dance performance.”

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