IT IS A LEADING irony of the contemporary dance world that some of the most innovative American choreographers have found success in Europe before being recognized on their home turf. For the average burgher in Paris, Brussels, or Vienna, names like Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, and Stephen Petronio are widely recognized, and in certain cases even revered--the way that metropolitan Americans might recognize (and revere) Lord of the Dance or Cats. As such, it's no wonder that some American dance artists elect to stay in Europe permanently. Meg Stuart, whose company Damaged Goods has been one of Europe's hottest performance tickets for a couple of years now, is one of these lucky stiffs.
Nine years ago, at age 24, Stuart performed a solo at one of New York's many experimental dance showcases. One of the audience members, a curator for the Belgian dance festival Klapstuck, liked Stuart's work so much he commissioned her to create an evening-length version of it. Disfigure Study premiered with a bang in 1991, and quickly thereafter Stuart became the darling of the European festival circuit. Based in Brussels since 1994, Damaged Goods is one of only a handful of companies to receive subsidies from the Flemish Cultural Ministry, and the only such one with a foreign artistic director.
"In dance, sometimes people are just sort of chatty," Stuart said on the phone from Brussels recently, in an accent which now flirts with Flemish intonation. "They're using their bodies beautifully, but I don't understand their drive--why they're moving. For me the why, even though it may not always be clear to the audience, is very important. With [my work], there is a big desire--an appetite--to accomplish, to do something, to get to know another person. It's like you're having a conversation and you realize that underneath that conversation there's a really clear objective."
No Longer Readymade (1993) reflects that intensity of purpose. It opens with a man standing alone in a square of light, shaking his head violently from side to side. The shaking is so furious that eventually his entire body starts convulsing, as if he were having a seizure. Other Damaged Goods works take place in similarly bone-rattling worlds--realms in which the body is not an emblem of perfection, but a confused, fragmented instrument of despair. As one Australian reviewer wrote: "This is not dance as we used to know it. It is cruder, less abstract and more directly metaphoric."
Stuart claims that appetite, a collaboration with installation artist Ann Hamilton and musician Bill Frisell that opens next week at the Southern Theater, was born out of a desire to "make something lighter." Yet the words she uses to describe the evocative title err on the side of the content-heavy: "desire," "potential for experience," "capacity for change." The more things change...
appetite plays Thursday through Saturday, November 5-7, at the Southern Theater; 340-1725.
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