Choreographer Meg Stuart’s most abstract work – Violet – a contemplation of the human condition will be performed this week in the city
My most enduring memory of watching Violet, choreographed by the American-born, Brussels/ Berlin-based choreographer Meg Stuart, was an acute perception of the heat in the theatre, of the sweat dripping down the five dancers’ faces, pooling down the bony edges of their arms when they touched. It was nearly visceral, a stark counterpoint to the chilly winter evening that lurked outside the performance venue, leaving the body on edge, causing it to curl in on itself. Inside, the heat consumed the space. It’s this temperature of the piece that drives its movement and becomes a strong rubric. Performed by Stuart’s company, Damaged Goods, Violet comes to Mumbai on February 13, the first stop in a four-city tour across India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Movement is change
What is a work of performance ‘about’? Violet offers no easy answers, in its treatment of movement as a “primary motor”. In an interview with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist for the Kulturstiftung des Bundes magazine, Stuart described the dancers in Violet as “platonic bodies”. Making Violet in the wake of the Arab Spring and the tsunami in Japan, Stuart recalled asking herself, “What causes change? At what moment is there a radical shift in thinking and how do we handle it?” The abstraction of the work was qualified by what was happening as it evolved. “Normally you have all the time in the world for abstraction, it is something cold and detached. You work with lines, forces, geometries, but here we were working with abstract movements under stress in a charged heated atmosphere. There was an urgency and a call. That is why it felt extremely political,” Stuart said to Obrist.
Violet is performed by five dancers, to live music by a single musician. Sometimes, it is cannibalistic, consuming itself as a movement is swallowed into escalating manifestations of itself. A dancer’s arms, bent at the elbows, inscribe blurry paths in space, and occasionally, circles. The movement grows; it becomes more expansive, speeding up at the same time, till the dancer’s arms desperately claw the still air, their violence surging through the rest of her body, knocking her off-balance in bolts of movement, until she falls to the floor. For another dancer, an extended arm is an opportunity for the body to be in conversation with a charged space. As the arm cuts through space, it sends her spinning. At other times, the energy held in the arm reverberates all the way down to the spine, leaving the dancer with a curved back. There are simultaneities in the dancers’ preoccupation with the anatomy and mechanics of the body – when all of them engage with the movement of the arms, for instance – but there is no easy synchronicity. The dancers are together, but also very alone, each dancer riveted by what the body offers, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the others.
In the moment
In her interview with Obrist, Stuart touched on the ways in which the notion of ‘exhaustion’ sits in her work, as the feeling of being present, as a strategy of art making, a means of being accountable to the moments we inhabit. “You tell someone: look at this, now look at it again, and again … no, this image is not finished yet. This intensity, this obsession, to over-stretch time, to force people to be hyper-present – that’s what I see as the responsibility of art right now.”
It is this intensity, this constellation of fractured images and flashes of the body in motion, that Violet leaves the audience with. Of mouths held open by breath, by exhaustion, of bodies tightly packed, flesh splayed by the weight of bone on muscle, of the soundscape eventually engulfing everything around it.
Violet will be performed on Wednesday, February 13, at 8 p.m. at Balgandharva Rangmandir, Bandra; email [email protected] goethe.de for passes to the performance.
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