Meg Stuart is one of those choreographers whose name everyone drops around among the dance community and whose works I’ve always pretended to be familiar with in order to sound smart. The fact that she is based in Europe even furthers this cloud of mystery that I have around her image – yes, she is one of those choreographers who moved to Europe. There is something about all of this that draws me into her works already without ever actually seeing them – it’s gonna be cool, it’s gonna be hip, it’s gonna be “European”.
Let me take this detour for a moment before actually delving into what she actually does on stage because for me how an artist is situated within a “situation” is in many ways more important than the art itself. That she is famous (not Beyoncé famous but still famous enough to draw in a very full house). That she is in Europe. That she has won awards. That she is curated for American Realness. That she has worked closely with André Lepecki. That this that that you get what I mean. She has achieved this iconic status in the contemporary dance scene that if I rave about her works, it becomes something inevitable yet if I trash them, it appears as if I want some attention (which I probably do) by rebelling against how the “system” treats her works and appearing original in my review. It is not quite relevant but since this is my first post, I feel the need to trace through whatever went through my mind when I watched or wrote about the piece instead of putting it in a vacuum.
Back on track, An Evening of Solo Works (2013) is sort of a (very) hipster version of a Greatest Hits compilation, compiled of four solos that she made over the past twenty years or so. However, if a Greatest Hits is there to sell and to further cement an artist’s status in culture, this piece has a more forward-dawning quality in its introspection, like a map tracing out where she has gone and curious about where to go from there. It demonstrates a certain level of rigor that she has been engaging in with her research and the versatility she has as a choreographer/ performer, which kept me thoroughly focused (and awake!!) throughout the whole hour with just one body on stage (most of the time at least).
The body seems to be the central point of her research; I mean, it is a dance, but her interest on the body approaches the realm of obsession. This gives her body a sculptural quality to every physical alteration as opposed to a string of disparate movements being sewn together. Especially in the solo XXX for Arlene and Colleagues (1995), this physical site is used to hurl multiple fuck-yous at the dance critic Arlene Croce and her conservative aesthetics agenda. When Croce attacked Bill T. Jones work Still/Here as “victim art”, deeming it immune to criticism because of its explicit mobilization of dying-ness (and perhaps blackness), Stuart immediately responds with the sociality and the lifeness of her body. It is certainly reductive to consider this work as this mere visceral response because there is a deep sense of interrogation, irony and political statement in the work that cannot be ignored; however, I do want to highlight her sensibility to the corporeal understanding that can be, in this case, utilized to issue a statement and a critique that is rarely articulated to this level throughout the evening.
When I say “rarely articulated”, I do not mean that she does not articulate herself but a lot of time, she is just not so interested in this crystal clear articulation. Rather, there seems to be a lot of exploration with the pre-expressive pauses, the often forgotten in-between moments: “Is it possible to track the hesitation before speaking, the movements not chosen, the spaces we travel to when we are daydreaming, the memories and projections that cloud our awareness of the present?”. This is not an easy task the she has set herself up for and by inscribing it down into a blog post, I am at the risk of simplifying and linearizing her investigation into the sub-conscious, or perhaps more accurately almost-conscious. While the sub-conscious is not there, her gestures are those which are there but not entirely there. They are uncanny in that they are not quite communicative but they are sort of familiar – she is sort of almost saying something.This paints her works, especially the second half of Signs of Affection (2010), with the sculptural quality that I mentioned earlier, rendering a subtle temporal lag between what is happening and what is being perceived. It is, indeed, very… interesting.
Interesting is a very interesting word. It is probably the most commonly used word when people use to describe contemporary art, often condescendingly. Perhaps that is what most people would say after watching Stuart’s works; and that was what I did write after watching her works. It is overused and it often has a dismissive connotation within that can stop further inquiry into and beyond the works. However, for me her solos are interesting in that they genuinely arouse my interest. They invite me to be deeply engage with her questions, to ponder upon them and to further leave the theatre space with more questions myself. I have a love-hate relationship with interesting kind of works because I used to think that they do not feel urgent enough – it is not a life or death kind of situation. Nevertheless, I believe it is with this type of rigorous exploration that renders her more direct moments in I take it back (2007) much more poignant and powerful. It is asymptotic to life. All of it. The sculptural quality of her poses. The temporal lag of her gestures. The body and its memories. The lifeness of her works. They all appear so important that I could almost put it into words.
All images are sourced via Meg Stuart’s website.