Each week, from now until TBA:09, Guest Artistic Director Cathy Edwards will zero in on different artists and pieces coming to the festival.
When I first started to watch contemporary dance, one of my bright-light moments was seeing Meg Stuart’s dance, No Longer Readymade, at Performance Space 122 in 1994. Meg was young, mostly known as a dancer, and had just been commissioned by a venue in Europe to create something of her own. She was back in New York to show what she had been working on, and there was a palpable sense that she was doing something new with dance. At that time, contemporary dance was generally lovely, kinetic, physically fluid, and abstract, often accompanied by dramatic backlights and wide-legged tunic pants. When Meg took the stage, she occupied a supremely different state–one in which the movement was utterly inventive, but reflected an emotional state that was very raw, very resonant, very much about youth and displacement and transition and the anxiety of making art. It was ferocious, really, and over the course of the piece as Meg danced her body became a blur. I remember that as she repeatedly emptied the detritus of her life out of her jacket pockets, she seemed to shake with the effort and embarrassment and ambition of being a young person trying to make a life as an artist in a world that did not particularly care about her plight.
This was over 15 years ago–and I have watched Meg’s work with great interest ever since. She formed a company, the brilliantly-named Damaged Goods, and that company has been based in …
Brussels for the duration of her career, although she now lives in Berlin. Meg has always had a keen sense of engaging dance with the state of theatricality not related to any direct sense of narrative, but rather one in which the atmosphere is conjured by an expert director, and human bodies move in ways that may or may not read “dance”, but that always find a physical language to reflect theatrical intention.
Meg Stuart’s work has been performed all over Europe, as well as in South America and the U.S. She has found a regular home at the Kaaitheater in Brussels, then Schauspielhaus Zurich, and now the Volksbuhne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin. Often, because of the scale of her sets, it is challenging to get her work to the United States. In the past few years, however, she has made important visits back to the U.S., including trips to Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio, to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and following the upcoming TBA Festival shows, to RedCat/CalArts Theater in Los Angeles.
The piece that we are bringing to the TBA Festival, called Maybe Forever, is made in collaboration with the Austrian choreographer Philipp Gehmacher. Meg has often collaborated with peer artists across disciplines (together with visual artist Ann Hamilton, media artist Gary Hill, dance artist Benoit LaChambre and composer Hahn Rowe, among others).
What I love about MAYBE FOREVER is the potent atmosphere that she and Philipp conjure as they contemplate the end, the way their physical language slowly creates a tableau of tenderness, of lost connections, of hope, of memory, of gestures that were once meaningful and are now empty. Of course the piece is blackly funny, too, poking with gentle absurdity at the collapse of the hyper-pop bubble of romantic films and novels and radio songs that form the eternal backbone of popular culture. The piece can be considered either a duet or a trio-Meg and Philipp are joined by the up-and-coming Brussels singer-songwriter Niko Hafkenscheid, who is prominently featured on stage and plays a live pop ballads with an indie-blues motif that serve as a kind of Greek chorus to the unravelling of a relationship. This performance is gentle but disillusioning, simultaneously touching and uncomfortable, created by one of this generation’s most accomplished dance artists.
Watch a trailer of MAYBE FOREVER.
Also running on opening weekend of TBA is another great dance project, Last Meadow, by Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, which will run in the Winningstad while Meg Stuart plays in the Newmark. This is a TBA commission and it will have its world premiere here in Portland. I was just at a retreat for artists who have received Creative Capital grant awards last weekend, and Miguel was in attendance because he is a grantee for the creation of this piece. At the retreat, Miguel talked about simultaneously comprehending the banality of living in an everyday body, and nonetheless continually desiring to be transcendent within that same body. I liked that concept, and it’s something I have always responded to in the dances he makes-although he has a pedestrian sensibility, an ability to let things unfold in their own time, with their own internal logic, his work also locates a visceral pleasure in movement, in music, in the sensory unraveling of a moment. Speaking of music, TBA favorite Neal Medlyn has created the sound score for this piece. Among other things, Last Meadow draws upon the icon of James Dean to reflect on an America, in Miguel’s words, “the jig is up and the dream has died.” I can’t wait to see it for the first time in Portland!
Last of all, for those of you who are curious to place all of this new dance in context, we are hosting an opening-weekend TBA lecture by http://www.pica.org/festival_detail_new.aspx?eventid=524, a professor at the New School in New York City and also a performer herself. Her lecture, Close Encounters: Contemporary Dance and Theories of Intimacy will offer a really good grounding in what is happening in new dance today.