Meg Stuart : An Evening of Solo Works

Meg Stuart.  Photo: Zan Wimberley

Sydney was privileged to see this astonishing evening of powerful hypnotic dance by Meg Stuart in an evening of short solo works.

An Evening of Solo Works (2013) presents a selection of these former solo works, as well as excerpts from evening-length performances. Stuart over her career has created over thirty works and through her company Damaged Goods has performed all over the world since 1994. Works include VIOLET, Built to Last , UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP and others.

In this performance , linked in with masterclasses given by Stuart and as part of the Keir Choreographic Award Programme we see for instance the shaking body that inspired VIOLET and an excerpt from the more recent Hunter. The stage is bare, a ‘black box’ studio effect, yet the works include collaborations with costume and lighting designers , dramaturgs and musicians. Stuart takes everyday movements and physical conditions and explores them through tightly controlled improvisation.

The extended opening work was the explosive Signs of Affection (2010) in tandem with Cec Condon on wild ,volcanic drums.Blonde, elfin Stuart is in a semi transparent striped black top and sneakers . The first section with Condon on drums is a dynamic incredibly energetic shaking solo both Stuart and Condon full of blistering energy that set the theatre alight. Stuart’s whole body shakes and quivers in an almost trancelike state – sometimes her arms are held over her head , some times she leans forward rocking , at other times it is as if she is juggling with tumbling hand movements , or perhaps pleading or praying ,or pretending to ‘point’ a gun with her fingers.

This is contrasted with the next section which is where Stuart kneels in silence , stroking and examining various parts of her body, her stomach and shoulders and biting her hand . In another section Stuart tightly hugs herself uncomfortably squashing her body.At one point her hands are stretched as if catching someone or carefully holding an invisible object. Yet another segment sees Stuart, at first sitting then standing , laugh with her hands over her eyes.Skin sculpture is created as Stuart strips and bares her backside creating amazing shapes with her hands. Fully dressed again, Stuart concentrates on tiny movements which are repeated and developed – a hand touches the floor and rotates , or an arm has a life of its own snaking in circles.

I take it back (2007), incorporates speech ( using a large standing microphone) and gesture as Stuart explores love and loss. Hesitating in the confined stage space Stuart’s body is conflicting and confused. There is repeated use of ‘You know when I said ……- I take it back” – Stuarts’s body reacts as if injured, hugging herself with crossed arms ( guilt ? sadness? ) or angry and declaring the relationship over – arms thrown up in the air.

The third work , XXX for Arlene and colleagues (1995) includes the use of voiceover and is a response to Arlene Croce’s famous “victim art” article in The New Yorker in which she refused to review a work about living with terminal illness. The work begins in a circle of light . Fluid , flowing movements are contrasted with more angular ones. Stuarts’s body becomes tilted one shoulder higher than the other and she walks awkwardly. Her smoky Dietrich like face becomes distorted too .The body as survivor ,out of its comfort zone. The work concludes suddenly with Stuart dragging her legs as if an anguished hurt mermaid.

The final work All songs have been exhausted (2014) sees Stuart barefoot in jeans and top. In this work according to the programme notes, Stuart asks “How can I digest the many influences that shaped me as a person and artist? How can a body unfold quantum genealogies and unrealised histories?” It begins in semi darkness with the lighting eventually rising.

It starts with breath and tiny movements exploring her face and arm – fingers delicately flutter like butterflies . Another segment has Stuart performing movements as if drying herself, brushing her hair etc. There is a rolling of hands repeated phrase .Rather feline hopping/soft jumps side steps are also included and there is a possibly Cunningham influence . The work ends with Stuart stripping her top off and donning a long blonde wig that completely covers her – with possible allusions to Nijinsky’s L’Apres-midi D’un Faune – and Stuart crawling off.

A most astonishing, intense and captivating evening providing much to think about.

Meg Stuart: An Evening of Solo Works was at Carriageworks 19-20 March