Are We There Yet? Meg Stuart Pays a Visit Homeby Catherine Massey
For Meg Stuart, the grass really is greener on the other side. A wiry American expatriate, she seldom performs in the U.S., but enjoys solid support in Europe, where she lives. In her most recent collaboration, Stuart and Benoît Lachambre dive into bottomless emotional chaos. Forgeries, Love and Other Matters, presented at Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), navigates a range of emotions: from knee-buckling despair to voyeuristic pleasure. Its shifting nature could leave an audience clamoring for stable ground. But I trusted the creators’ astute choices and believed every step of the adventure.
Stuart’s real-life adventure is equally astonishing. A New Orleans native, Stuart moved to New York in 1983 and eventually joined the Randy Warshaw Dance Company. She never planned to leave New York; it just happened. In 1991, producer Bruno Verbergt saw a snippet of Stuart’s choreography and invited her to create a piece in Belgium. The result, Disfigure Study, was an immediate success and toured extensively throughout Europe. Stuart formed her company, Damaged Goods, and quickly gained artist-in-residence positions at theaters in Brussels and Zurich. In a conversation last month at DTW, Lachambre discussed the differences between U.S. and European artistic landscapes, explaining that “in Europe there is an idea about developing artists that is not found in America.” The resources available to Stuart in Europe have allowed her—within the short span of a decade—to grow into one of the most influential choreographers of her generation; and this without much U.S. attention.
The Forgeries tour is surprisingly brief, stopping at only two U.S. venues: the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and DTW. I asked Stuart why she rarely performs in the U.S. She admits that few American presenters have seen her work—and even fewer are willing to show it. Stuart laughed, “I would love to be presented in New York every year. It would be a dream.” Unfortunately, it’s been five years since the last time Stuart performed here. Shortly after September 11, 2001, she collaborated with Lachambre and composer Hahn Rowe at the Movement Research Improvisation Festival—a precursor to Forgeries.
Set upon a sloping hill of fake, brown fur, Forgeries opens with Stuart and Lachambre rocking back and forth weeping as light emerges like the rising sun. Dressed in polyester jackets, sunglasses, and cowboy boots, they are stranded in a barren landscape. When consoling each other, they keep their distance. Sobs turn to laughter and laughter turns to sobs. Deranged by their shared anguish, Stuart and Lachambre fidget as if plagued by some kind of obsession. Stuart drinks from a bottle of lotion and soothes herself with a wet wipe. Lachambre dry heaves like an addict and soon begins to convulse as if having a seizure. Meanwhile, Stuart struggles futilely with a first aid kit, her boots sinking into the unstable ground of the hill. All this is exhausting, but, like rubbernecking on the highway, the voyeurism is strangely pleasurable. “Are we there yet?” Stuart asks, leaving one to wonder if by “there” she means the end of the world, or the end of this couple’s rope.
Later, Lachambre climbs to the top of the fur-coated hill. He rips off his clothing, erupting into a wolf-like creature. As he bounds across the ridge, hair flying and muscles flexed, Stuart watches him with binoculars. We watch Stuart watching him and thus our voyeurism is handed to us on a silver platter; we are grateful for the comic relief. Rowe, who mixes surging music onstage, plays a heartbeat while Lachambre’s howls descend into desperate cries. Stuart cradles him briefly before abandoning him to his despair. When Stuart returns clad in trashy, blond wig, cardigan and high heels, we know it’s time for a change. Stuart brings an outfit for Lachambre—now embarrassed by his nakedness—and sets up a picnic blanket. They begin the coy, cat and mouse game of new (or potential) lovers. “Maybe some mood music,” Rowe offers. Stuart dances, this time pleased with her brazen sexuality and Lachambre eagerly follows her bait. Despite their eccentric nature, we grow used to this couple’s quirky humanity.
When Forgeries takes a turn to the sci-fi it’s evident that Stuart won’t allow for complacency. At this point, a section of the hill opens, revealing a florescent underground bunker. Lachambre drones on in a monotonous voice and Stuart covers herself in plastic trash before entering the room. Her body is stripped down and inspected. He traces her skin curiously. Are they straight-jacket scientists or lackluster news reporters? “There is no love in this place,” they say. Of course not. But, the final image of our heroic duo, romping in fur suits, posing for photos, and setting up camp is full of saccharin affection—of the sweet-and-low variety.
While Forgeries is heavy on the non-linear, non-narrative, lucidity is not sacrificed. Stuart, Lachambre, and Rowe take their viewers to the edge and back. It is refreshing to see what can happen when three dedicated artists are given months of uninterrupted time and resources to research, experiment and create. Such time and space are luxuries that most American choreographers only dream about—but isn’t it lovely to dream? Optimistically, Stuart nods her head, “I predict a shift in American dance. I think we’ll see it come around.” I hope she’s right. For now, I’ll keep on dreaming.
CATHERINE MASSEY writes about dance and lives in Manhattan. She is a graduate student at NYU.