Review: Maybe Forever ~ theatre notes

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: Maybe Forever

It’s astounding how little it takes to communicate human feeling. Watching Meg Stuart and Phillipp Gehmacher’s 2007 dance piece, Maybe Forever, I couldn’t help reflecting how few Australian artists have the courage to do almost nothing.

Meg Stuart is an American-born choreographer and dancer who moved to Brussels in 1994. There she formed her company Damaged Goods, and became a leading figure in European avant garde dance.

This collaboration with Austrian Philipp Gehmacher emerges from the same thread of anti-spectacular dance that informs the work of French choreographer Jérôme Bel, itself derived from Guy Debord’s seminal 1960s critique, The Society of the Spectacle.

This work actively rethinks the very notion of representative dance, in the light of Debord’s idea that authentic human relationship has been replaced by a passive identification with media images and representations.

What emerges in Bel’s work, such as Pichet Klunchun and Myself and The Show Must Go On, is a radically stripped aesthetic that almost miraculously transmits an astounding buoyancy and liberation.

In Maybe Forever, which charts the painful emotional truncations of a failed relationship, Stuart and Gehmacher explore a choreography so minimal that it barely exists, skirting the edges of bathos and sentimentality.

It’s easy to see why Stuart’s work has been often compared to the theatre of Samuel Beckett. The three performers, Gehmacher, Stuart and Belgian singer/songwriter Niko Hafkenscheid, are isolated figures on a bare stage, their relationships troubled and doubtful.

The dance begins in liminal light in which the bodies of the dancers, lying on the stage, are barely visible, moving like figures drowned in sleep to a score of abstract electronic sounds punctuated by the cries of seagulls. Jan Maerten’s miraculous lighting lifts with an imperceptible graduation, as the dancers equally gradually expand their movement, rising into an uncertain dance of attraction and repulsion until they both vanish into darkness.

This prologue sets the emotional tenor of the dance, invoking a state of deep meditation. What follows is the casual entrance of Hafkenscheid and his electric guitar on a now exposed stage, where he begins to pick out the chords of an acoustic ballad.

The dynamics of an imagined relationship are enacted through a variety of means – spoken recitations, movement which shifts from mundane gesture to a disturbed, broken abstraction, and a series of songs which don’t illustrate the emotions so much as obliquely frame them.

It’s difficult to describe the effect. For some people, I’m sure it will manifest as boredom: this is not a dance that satisfies any desire for spectacular movement. But for those like myself who find themselves wound into its minimalist drama, it’s an extraordinarily moving expression of the complexities of pain.

It takes a lot of nerve and an unfalteringly exquisite sense of rhythm and spatial relationship to work successfully so closely to the edge of banality. Strangely, given the almost casual gesture that informs so much of the dance, what moved me most was its accuracy, a sense of a finely judged calibration of feeling.

There’s something pure about this dance, a transparency that perversely reveals the opacities of human relationship, that makes it deeply rewarding. And, far from being depressing, it releases an ambivalent joy.

Picture: Meg Stuart, Philipp Gehmacher and Niko Hafkenschied in Maybe Forever. Photo: Chris Van Der Burght.

This review appears in today's Australian.

Maybe Forever, choreographed and performed by Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher. Musician Niko Hafkenscheid. Lighting designer Jan Maertensm design by Janina Audick, sound design by Vincent Malfstaf. Damaged Goods and Mumbling Fish, presented by Malthouse Theatre and the Goethe Institute. Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne. June 23. Until June 26.

1 comment:

rhyspeaking said...

i also loved this show Alison. Heartbreaking and dreamlike and very brave. I hadn't emotionally connected with a show like this for ages.