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Moving The Viewer

Dance choreographer Meg Stuart takes her audience on a demanding and powerful journey with new creation, VIOLET.

By Alena Giesche

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Meg Stuart (as seen Photo 1), born 1965 in New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of Europe’s most prominent dance choreographers. Her Brussels-based company, Damaged Goods, was founded in 1994 and has since supported the creation of over 20 evening-length works that have won her much international acclaim including the prestigious Bessie Award in 2008. Stuart’s work spans solo performance, large-scale installations, improvisation, and film—an expansive range for a single artist. If you enjoy artists with consistent style, then Meg Stuart’s rapidly evolving repertoire will likely be perplexing.

Indeed, Stuart seems intent on subverting her own habits and pushing her choreography to untested—perhaps uncomfortable—grounds. As a result, her work constantly reinvents itself and has avoided clear definition. Stuart’s movement research propels her dancers to explore the unknown—the naked essence or inner psychology of the body. Her most recent work, VIOLET, also creates an intense visceral experience for the viewer.

VIOLET begins with a flash of light jolting my senses into high alert. Five dancers in a straight line begin on a bare stage in utter stillness, leaving me searching for what movement will begin the piece. Bit by bit, a scan reveals a finger stirring or an elbow shifting. The five dancers, never in unison yet still in accordance, accelerate their pace so gradually that I hardly notice the slip into a frenzied universe of swinging arms, repetition over repetition, the sheer energetic charge mixing agony with bliss.

The dancing is coupled with urgent, pounding, and in fact deafening music, engineered with laptop and drum set by live musician Brendan Dougherty. As the electronic music expands and shapes the room with its droning pulse, I notice the audience moving uncomfortably—muscles involuntarily gripping and heaving. It becomes so intense that the sound of a dancer screaming at the top of her lungs is still obscured by the music. And then—a sudden stop. The five dancers, breathless, stand still at the edge of the stage and watch the audience. Staring back, I feel as if I had just come from a crowded, stuffy dance floor into a cool, muffled bathroom only to see my face silently reflected in the mirror.

At one point, a dreamy landscape punctuated by intense, rainbow lighting emerges. One dancer makes the first physical contact with another, and then all five are rolling as an enormous conjoined organism around the stage, limbs crossing and folding in undecipherable harmony.

This piece is not for the timid or sensitive. During the performance in Paris, six people left the show in the first twenty minutes—an act that only fueled my own desire to stay. Beware: the 80-minute show is literally exhausting to watch if you arrive in a state of tension.  Like a drug trip, a magnification of your own state of mind is possible, since VIOLET plays with experience of the present moment. Though Stuart’s work tends to be challenging, there is something trancelike and quite unforgettable about the journey.

Upcoming 2012 performance dates for VIOLET:

February 25-26—Dresden, Germany

March 1-2—Berlin, Germany

March 20—Tarbes, France

March 27—Breda, Netherlands

April 26—Utrecht, Netherlands


Photo 1, Meg Stuart, courtesy of Tina Ruisinger

Photos 2-3, images from “VIOLET”, courtesy of Chris Van der Burght