Rubbing up against the social

On Do Animals Cry by Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

Programme note 1 May 2010English

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Everybody on and off stage constructs their reality at every moment. What fascinates me are the inevitable holes in these realities: when other people don’t easily fit into our scripts, or when circumstances force us to improvise. In every performance there are hidden layers being revealed. My performers rarely have fixed characters or behaviour, so they can readily fall into the holes of alternative realities. They do this, as in life, as a way of escaping an uncomfortable present. In dance, I try to physicalise the noise, the distractions, the projections that one experiences when meeting another person. (Meg Stuart)



In Do Animals Cry, six people negotiate the roles of a traditional family, constantly shifting perspective and alternating positions – slipping in and out of the familiar’s grasp. The characters present themselves to us through their nicknames, mostly not exactly flattering ones – indeed, these are names given to them by others. The social space is thick with conventions and expectations, carving out pathways for people to move and interact in acceptable ways, but as well sticking to their bodies as foreign energies. Take the many scenes with the family gathered around a table: how to overcome a script that is all too familiar, suffocatingly so? Whether it concerns the roles we play in our daily lives or the names that denote our multiple selves: we are always already moving in a space moved by others. How to deal with this? How to break the pattern and transform the rituals? How to move away from what we tend to identify as “normal”? How to embrace ambiguity and a vivid sense of imagination?

Regarding family constellations as a social choreography, in Do Animals Cry Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods are coming from all sides in an attempt to reveal and dissect the complex ways in which people are always performing, also in their daily lives.



Halfway Do Animals Cry an outsider enters the space, which is by then mapped out choreographically and in terms of family relations. Reminiscent of Pasolini’s Teorema, things unhinge and at times wildly spiral out of joint upon this stranger’s appearance. Who is this outsider? What does he see and feel? And what about his angelic demeanour? Is he perhaps immune for the worldly energies that percolate the other characters’ bodies? As spectators we are granted a new access to this world thick with recognition and the everyday. We are invited to suspend identification and take up the role of observers as well – to become two and then many, as a crowd of strangers or multiple families at work within ourselves. We are invited to move our arms in unison with the outsider and scan the space, slowly tune our limbs and bodies into an unknown sensorial organ, susceptible for ethereal energies that have eluded our eyes.



The stranger brings everyone in a state of excitement, a group hyperventilating, jumping, hugging and rubbing one another. Do Animals Cry contains a whole catalogue of gestures related to social interaction and physical contact: fighting, wrestling, teasing, flirting, kissing, embracing, and once again rubbing, which recurs throughout as a choreographic leitmotiv. Repeated with physical distance, these gestures are left unsolicited, with the performers reaching out to their side or back, groping in the air, tracing something in the space – absent presences, like memories, or desires. They oscillate between the everyday and choreographic abstraction, between touch and distance, with rubbing as shifter or turning point. Linking intimacy and friction, rubbing hosts the ambiguity of contact in a single hand gesture.

In scanning the space and giving equal attention to all the different elements in one’s environment, Meg Stuart regards the dancing body “as a container that channels and transmits signals, energy and identities. Movement is one way of filtering and processing the accumulated input.” From a hand caressing the space into energy brushing up against the body and through it, like a trance producing idiosyncratic movements, gestures, states and tics as a side-effect legible on the body’s surface – again rubbing, with its twin-forces of intimacy and friction, but now at work on a more abstract choreographic level.



Empty your body of its own movement desires. Receive energy from outside forces; perhaps it is delicious, perhaps it is unpleasant, perhaps it is electric, perhaps it is barely perceptible. Let the energy invade you, surprise you, maybe you invite it. You contain the energy, sustain it, letting it affect you. You give it form. It finds pathways through your body, making you move, perhaps it changes in the process, eventually it exits. Allow different exits, perhaps the energy drains out, shoots out, evaporates. Be still, waiting for the next energetic force to enter you. (Meg Stuart)



Near the end, the outsider takes stock of the situation. His arms outstretched like antennas, he measures the energies, distances, memories, hopes and fictions lingering in the space and between the people – he guides the limbs of our tuned imagination, gathering the traces of a heterogeneous universe.


The quotations by Meg Stuart are taken from Jeroen Peeters (ed.), Are we here yet? Damaged Goods / Meg Stuart, Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2010