Meg Stuart
Damaged Goods
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Interview by Jeroen Versteele
SPRINGDANCE MAGAZINE, Just doing Violet - Annette van Zwol (30/03/2012)

She is fascinated with natural phenomena such as tsunamis, tornados and rock formations. Because of the energy they trigger and the relationship they create with their environment. No wonder then, that choreographer Meg Stuart has named her most recent performance after the last colour in the rainbow: violet. The colour that forms the transition into the unknown, the invisible. Violet, a force of nature, will be presented at SPRINGDANCE 2012.

The American Meg Stuart works from Brussels and Berlin. With her company Damaged Goods, based in Brussels, she has made more than twenty productions. She is known for her theatrical choreographies in which she scrutinizes human relations. Do Animals Cry, for instance, billed by SPRINGDANCE two years ago but cancelled due to the ash cloud over Iceland, presents a deceptively comfortable family scene. With Violet she is taking a new turn. Stuart herself calls Violet her first abstract piece. But do not expect a purely formalist showpiece. ‘I think Violet is very moving, very touching. You see the dancers at their limits. It is charged, it is alive. It goes out of cold abstraction.’

Five dancers and a musician. The music is performed live and drives the dancers on. Movements and tones undulate across the room, a shaft of energy fills the auditorium. Stuart and the dancers created their performance during an emotionally charged period. The protests in the Arab countries entered our living rooms via television and the tsunami in Japan, home to one of the dancers, and the accompanying disaster at Fukushima nuclear power plant brought commotion across the globe. Violet does not deal with these things explicitly, but it has been influenced by these contextual factors. Such events, mass and movement carry some imperceptible force, and this is what Stuart and her dancers have tried to capture. ‘What makes things change? What makes them transform? What makes them move? Somehow we absorbed the climate into the piece.’

Violet has been described as a landscape of physical sculptures. A description that seamlessly fits in with the theme sculptured bodies & body sculptures set for SPRINDANCE 2012, which focuses on the exchange between dance and visual art. In the past Stuart often worked with visual artists, but with Violet it was a conscious choice not to do so. And so, there images appearing in front of us are not static. She herself calls them sensorial sculptures. With the intensity of the music and the movements, and by stripping away any surplus theatricalities Stuart tries to create a physical sensitivity, both in her dancers and in her audience. ‘We wanted to make something that was quite intense and that wasn’t just a visual experience, but also an experience for the nervous system.’ They took a pop concert as their inspiration. ‘When you go to a concert, you feel the potential, the energy, the drive. That is the feeling we want to transmit.’

Energy appears to be the thread connecting Violet. Stuart’s decision to create an abstract performance has resulted in a, to her, new form. In her earlier work she addressed people’s manipulative natures, and behavioural intentions. In those performances she also manipulated the audience’s view. In Violet the five dancers can simply ‘be’ which allows the spectators the scope to decide for themselves what to look at. Stuart describes Violet as a ‘utopian space’. ‘There is nobody pushing anyone around. The dancers are all living independently. There is an acceptance and that is a very special choice in Violet. It is all just happening.’ One important source of inspiration was a video by the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, in which he walks into a tornado holding a video camera. ‘He just did that. What kind of physical experience is it to be in the centre of such a force? Natural phenomena are something mysterious and unpredictable. The dancers in Violet are in a force as well. They can´t get out. They are also just doing it.’

Even in this new form, Stuart’s signature is still clearly identifiable. Her focus on the upper body, the frequent use of the arms. The performance was made in close collaboration with the dancers. Their individual material has been worked into the piece. But the most characteristic element is the search for some edge, the taking up of new challenges. ‘Violet pushes some kind of edge. You get a bit disoriented because the dancers get dizzy, the atmosphere gets delirious, it’s hot and the music is getting loud. You lose a bit of ground.’

During SPRINDANCE 2012 Violet will be performed at the Stadsschouwburg, but as a spectator you will be seated on the stage, in close proximity to the dancers. That way you will feel the music, see the sweat. This proximity is important to Stuart. ‘We want the audience to see that the dancers are at risk, that it is for real. You might not know exactly what they are working on, but you feel that they are engaged in what they are doing, without any distance.’

Violet
Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods
Thurs 26 April / Stadsschouwburg / 7:30 pm


Annette van Zwoll is a freelance dance dramaturge and essayist in the cultural sector. She has regularly worked for festivals such as Springdance, Nederlandse Dansdagen, Oerol and ITs Festival Amsterdam, for individual choreographers such as the Belgian Koen de Preter, and for organisations such as anoukvandijk dc, Dansateliers and ArtEZ Dansacademie.

THE NEW YORK TIMES, Perseverance in a Collapsing World - Gia Kourlas (06/01/2012)

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