There’s no way of escaping being looked at by others

Programme text on I’m all yours, private room and soft wear by Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

Programme note 1 May 2002English

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Contextual note
This text was commissioned by Damaged Goods, written in January 2002, and first published in May 2002 in the programma of the KunstenFESTIVALdesArts in Brussels.

Throughout the 2000-2001 season, choreographer Meg Stuart and her Damaged Goods company were working with dramaturg Stefan Pucher and video director Jorge Leon to develop the Highway 101 project – a travelling project composed of a series of creations and performed in specific places. Each time a central archive of movement material, images and ideas encountered a particular architectural environment and rearranged itself in this new context; transformations introducing new images, experiences, questions and reflections. As a nearly infinite body, Highway 101 was fanning out; it set up for example a magazine and embraced interventions by guests. Some parts have lived lives of their own from the moment they were created, like the solo’s private room, I’m all yours and soft wear.

Just as Highway 101 cut a path through different contexts, Meg Stuart’s choreographies are always positioned ‘in the world’, among other things by way of numerous references to everyday movements and tics. For these are the images and bodies which interest Stuart: not pretending to coincide with itself, but on the contrary being in the hands of this very day. Through extreme fragmentation and distortion, Stuart challenges the control of the human soul and its desires, revealing the masks and fictions that determine our doings.

In private room, projected onto a large screen, we see a young man (performer Rachid Ouramdane) sitting in an armchair. In front of the screen, Meg Stuart, who is sitting in the same armchair, comments on the man’s behaviour: “You’re not in the right position”. Does the man know he is being watched, not only by a surveillance camera, but also by a performer and an audience? He doesn’t want to know, he seems to want to withdraw from the gaze of the others, desperately in search of intimacy and a safe place for himself. Before the camera he is defenceless, under this all-powerful gaze his desire for privacy is mercilessly dissected. “Don’t try so hard,” says Stuart.

There’s no way of escaping being looked at by others. As if she is being interrogated, in the solo I’m all yours Meg Stuart relates about herself with a somewhat theatrical irony. All kinds of thoughts that occur to her are uttered as incoherent snatches of text – like “This shirt is only second hand” or “I’ve only been raped once.” She surrenders nonchalantly to the audience whilst trying to hold off with words the gazes directed at her. She plays with the gaze of others, she plays with the fantasies raised by their gaze, she plays herself until she falls apart and loses herself in a hundred and one different roles. Once more it becomes clear that the theater of one’s own identity is necessarily connected to a spectator – so to the other, and to its denial.

“I no longer feel I’m a fixed presence. I cut parts of my identity out of their context,” says Stuart, and this is precisely why she dances. The “speed” of the medium allows her to combine very different images and experiences in a short span of time, to shape “the desire to be an image, and then not, something like a billboard.”

This game with identity and auto-manipulation appears probably the sharpest way in soft wear, strictly dance. It is a solo based on the principle of “morphing”, a term used in computing for designating the transformation from one state to another. The images of Stuart’s body transform themselves continuously in soft wear, the dancer’s familiar face twists itself into an obscene grin, a strange image that seems stuck to the skin and all of a sudden places the viewer at an enormous distance. And then the picture tilts further, as drawn into a whirlpool, as if the whole world were fiddling about with it. It is a tragic body, for it will never dance quickly enough to look back, while it actually lives on that.