Meg Stuart
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LE DEVOIR, Meg Stuart, la mémoire dans la peau - Mélanie Carpentier (08/10/2016) [ French ]
De Morgen, Into uncharted waters - Pieter T’Jonck (30.11.16)

Into uncharted waters

Pieter T’Jonck, De Morgen, 30.11.16

Over the course of three evenings, the American choreographer Meg Stuart and the British theatre maker, writer and artist Tim Etchells will be improvising together on stage at Kaaitheater. He will chiefly be expressing himself in words, and she with movements. ‘Shown and Told’ is a leap into uncharted waters, with the audience serving as an invaluable witness.

In any case, Stuart and Etchells are old acquaintances. They have already worked together on Stuart’s performances ‘Alibi’ (2001) and ‘It’s not funny’ (2006) for example, and recently toured together with their own solo performances. However, the idea for the collective improvisation ‘Shown and Told’ only came about when they were in Berlin together taking part in ‘Expo Zero’, an exhibition/performance staged by the French choreographer Boris Charmatz at a series of different locations (including in Brussels).

DM: What induced you to improvise together?

TE: In Berlin we discovered a way of doing this that struck us as promising and exciting. I improvised texts based on Meg’s movements and vice-versa. We do this without one or other of us taking the lead.

MS: The way we work together could almost be described as symbiotic. We don’t adhere strictly to our respective roles. Sometimes, Tim might start dancing while I come up with words to accompany him. However there is a certain degree of development in this: we often move from highly specific and often personal things to actions that are more open and indefinite.

DM: Do you start out with some kind of basic concept, a text or a dance, which you can then build upon?

TE: We are both interested in fragmentation; in pieces of text or movement that have never been given a definitive place. Over the years, I have written many of these stand-alone fragments of text. They have a certain energy, an unrealised potential. By removing them from the context in which they were created and by playing them off against something else, they suddenly gain resonance. This is the kind of material that we are starting out with here.

DM: To what extent is this really ‘improvised’?

MS: Over time, we develop more or less fixed arrangements. We also know roughly which forms we wish to explore, as well as having an idea of the moments at which each of us will ‘peak’. The performance’s duration – around an hour – is also predetermined, so the evening is quite structured. In any case, there’s only so much uncertainty that you can handle.

TE: But this rough structure still allows plenty of room for surprises. We have nowhere near exhausted the possibilities of the material yet. There are elements of it that are still mysterious to us.

MS: We are challenging ourselves. There is no music and no scenery. We are not presenting a single, coherent story. For me, this is unfamiliar ground. I have had enough experience of improvising with dancers to usually be able to discern rapidly which direction things are going in, and what kind of situation is emerging. But that doesn’t always work here.

TE: It’s the same for me. I mostly determine the framework for a performance myself, but the confrontation with Meg brings me into uncharted waters. I have to figure out how I can deploy my skills and knowledge for this. It’s not that we don’t trust each other, but it throws you off balance more often than you’d think. You no longer fully understand yourself, which means that you have to reinvent some things from the beginning.

DM: Can you give an example of that?

TE: I’ve discovered that I only truly understand things if I can do them in a number of different ways. I often create neon artworks, and sometimes execute the texts I use for these as drawings, or send them as tweets. It is astonishing how the impact and meaning of the same words can differ so greatly if you present them in a different medium. That’s also the case here: we use things that we created ourselves and are therefore familiar with, but here we discover them in a different way because the context is different.

DM: Is it important to do this in front of an audience?

TE: Definitely. The preparation and the rehearsals feel like you’re putting together the ingredients for a chemical experiment. But not the experiment itself.

MS: When I dance, Tim is my first spectator in a certain sense. You can never be exactly sure how people will participate in a dance performance, but Tim being there creates a kind of triangular relationship. He mediates between the audience and me, and the opposite is also true. That is irreplaceable. Without an audience you are just messing around.

Interview with Meg Stuart about UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP - Smaranda Olcèse for Nanterre-Amandiers (04/16) [ French ]

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