Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "What Is Dance?" (on Meg Stuart's Hunter)

what is dance?
by Douglas Messerli

Meg Stuart Hunter / Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) / the performance I attended, with Pablo Capra, was on Saturday, January 29, 2017.

Although she was born in New Orleans and danced with several companies in New York, choreographer and performer Meg Stuart now lives in Belgium where she has worked on over 30 productions, including Visitors Only, Built to Last, UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP, and, with Phillipp Gehmacher, Maybe Forever, performed at Redcat in 2009.
       The performance I saw the other evening at Redcat, Hunter, is like several of her other works, an exploration of her own body—both her outer physical body and the internal body of her heart and mind.

      The evening began with the dancer cutting up a wide range of images and pinning them to a paper to form a loosely-composed collage, projected from the cutting table. After the audience settled into their seats, she stood briefly before taking her body to the dance floor where she explored numerous positions from shaking, rolling, and possibly, imagining herself as a child in the snow making snow angels. 
      From a standing position she began exploring other parts of her body, arms, legs, breasts, and, in one long comic interlude played out with a large colorful penis shaped doll, even her vagina shaking and writhing in the spasms of sex. At one point she shouted out a kind of shamanist chant, and at another, carried a large Plexiglas frame which transformed the color of her body and the surrounding space of the stage.

       When one finally felt that, after all of these numerous movements, she must be exhausted, Stuart picked up a microphone and began a kind of long monologue about speaking itself, a future devoted to political marches, and aspects of her past life, including the meaning of her own name—all of these seemingly improvisatory, which helped, like the movements before it, to create a immense rapport with the audience, implicitly suggesting that if she were on the “hunt” for who she was, is, and will be, that we must, at least mentally, join her.
     As Stuart seems to be constantly asking, “What, after all, is dance?” Most dances also have partners, and, as literary theorist Marjorie Perloff has reminded us, there is also a “dance of the intellect.”
      Finishing her free form talk, Stuart set up a series of audio experiments and small and larger videos that projected various abstract shapes across her breast and face. Finally, she quietly begin to put her things away, while a voice called out that the most important decision one can make is to change one’s mind, hinting that the hunter might, at any moment, return to the hunt and explore other bodily surfaces. 
     A quiet walk off stage ended the evening, except for the long applause of the sell-out crowd and several graceful bows from the dancer.

Los Angeles, January 31, 2017

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