Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Posted: November 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop, Sadler’s Wells, November 15

Claire Vivianne Subottke, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Jared Gradinger and Neil Callaghan in Until Our Hearts Stop (photo: Iris Janke)

The stage setting by Doris Dziersk for Meg Stuart’s Until Our Hearts Stop transforms the Sadler’s Wells stage, under the lighting of Jurgen Kolb and Gilles Roosen, into an unencumbered volume like a traditional American basement with its plain wooden panels and a single staircase at the back. It can also be thought of as what psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s calls a ‘transitional space’ — an in-between space open to possibilities and the imagination. It’s a space for play, and the playground of the theatre is where Stuart has set out the parameters of her game.

In a pre-show talk with Tim Etchells, Stuart, who is also known for her solo collaborations, spoke of how larger works take her to places she can’t go alone, and of the body as a ‘switching station’ where streams of influence flow through it into a shared pool of collective dreams. Both of these ideas are fundamental to the central theme of Until Our Hearts Stop which is the exploration of intimacy on a theatrical scale.

Dance is fundamentally different from the other arts in that its language is not words, lines, colours or musical notes but the body in space with its own contours and boundaries. In pushing these limits both spatially and psychologically in her search for intimacy, Stuart engages the transitional possibilities — the ‘switching station’ — of the body in a game where those limits are apt to dissolve: the absence of clothing in dance is a logical extension of its corporeal language. Stuart presents the naked body in Until Our Hearts Stop on a raw, unselfconscious scale that erodes its private and thus its erotic nature. She even leaves out suggestion; Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Maria F. Scaroni strip off to play with and explore each other’s bodies, slapping, splaying, pulling, pinching, and sniffing without limits not as a metaphor but as the lowest common denominator of physical intimacy.

Stuart employs games on other levels. The stage setting includes a drum kit, a piano and a bass guitar but when the nine performers enter there is no immediate differentiation between the six dancers and the three musicians; they disentangle over the course of the initial placement and replacement of individuals and groups. Gender is effectively masked in Nadine Grellinger’s initial costumes of jeans and sweatshirts and the touch of contact improvisation becomes the catalyst for the intimate games they are about to play. The framework of theatrical conventions is also called into question; there is no intermission as such, but where there would normally be a break the performers fabricate an intermission with offers of water, plates of fruit and a bottle of scotch that they deliver into the audience. Stuart also uses an audience plant who goes by the name of Myriam to dissolve the divide between audience and performers. It starts when Neil Callaghan takes off his underwear to which Myriam reacts with untrammeled delight and an infectious laugh. Any further instances of nakedness (of which there are plenty) send her into whoops of laughter, and she’s one of the first to request water at the false intermission. It’s as if Stuart is not sure the British audience will enter into the spirit of the performance as she had intended; she drives home the illusion in Kristof Von Boven’s witty conversation with the pianist Stefan Rusconi — whispered into a microphone — in which he comments on the politics of the day as well as on Myriam’s ‘outrageous’ behaviour.

Until Our Hearts Stop is, as a title, an exhortation to the performers to push their limits to the point of physical and psychological exhaustion, but where Pina Bausch, for example, broke down the theatrical framework to explore her interest in what moved people, Stuart uses the limits of her dancers to manipulate theatrical conventions. Until Our Hearts Stop is an expression of intimacy but not, because of the graphic exaggeration of the means employed, a call for intimacy; closeness does not strip down to its emotional components and reach under skin. Until Our Hearts Stop thus turns in on itself like an exercise that, for all its ludic intensity, leaves little room for the imagination.

In the pre-show talk Stuart said she wanted to ‘create a space I can’t see in the world but where I’d like to be.’ By virtue of the unquestionable integrity of Until Our Hearts Stop she has created that space, but you have to enter the theatre to experience it.