Performance Review: Meg Stuart @ REDCAT
photo of Meg Stuart in Maybe Forever by Eva Wurdinger
>Born in New Orleans forty-odd years ago, choreographer/performer Meg Stuart came to REDCAT last week with a lot under her belt. After spending her collegiate years at New York University, she danced with Trisha Brown alumnus Randy Warshaw’s company before being offered an opportunity to showcase and develop her own voice in Brussels, Belgium 15 years ago. Since this relocation, she has been afforded state support from the arts-aware nation where she lives, as well as commissions from international funders and collaborating artists and presenters.
Last week, she and fellow choreographer/performer Philipp Gehmacher brought Maybe Forever to REDCAT and the two artists flexed some of their European-developed muscles. Both have established their own companies in their current homelands, Stuart’s Damaged Goods and Gehmacher’s Mumbling Fish in Vienna and both have forged careers and strong identities independent of one other.
In an eighty minute dance theater work that can easily be identified as stark and simultaneously rich, the two portrayed characters whose relationship was sometimes on, but mostly off. Opening in near darkness, the dyad stayed close together and supported each other in some interesting shapes and partnering arrangements. However, the difficulty in seeing exactly what was going on between the two served as a clear metaphor of their back story. Once the lights illuminated the stage, the man and woman appeared isolated and distant from each other, rarely making physical contact of any nature and often facing opposite directions.
In verbal moments in front of a microphone, Ms. Stuart talked of the differences between memories and facts while onstage electric neo-blues guitarist/singer/composer Niko Hafkenscheid addressed the audience directly. His banter punched through the fourth wall that separates the stage from the onlookers, but brought us no closer to the action. In front of a photographic-like image designed by Janina Audick that depicted a dandelion gone to seed and its petals floating off in a gentle breeze, the performers gestured, moved, fell and stood across the bleak landscape they were describing.
At one point, with Gehmacher standing with his arms set to embrace Stuart, the dancer positioned herself within his grasp and then slid to the floor and away before he could respond. With lyrics that—at times--obliquely referred to the action, the creators left the audience a lot of space and time to construct our own set of narrative details. There was, perhaps, a bit too much tense silence, but a sharp and short enigmatic arm movement often broke it. This only deepened the bound energy of the duet.
Toward the end of the piece, the couple performed in unison, though separated by half the stage. Arms circled overhead, people turned, knees dropped to the ground, but the expanse between them nullified any lasting connection. When the pair separately drew back the curtains at the rear of the stage and revealed the actual walls of the theater behind and around them, we got no more information about their existence now or in the past or future.
A friend of mine interpreted Maybe Forever as hitting a little too close to home in its expression of failed intimacy. Conceptually and compositionally rigorous and powerful, I think few left the theater smiling. Clearly, the artists involved didn’t make this work to entertain their viewers, but their craftsmanship was evident both in structure and execution.