The myth of Disfigure Study

Afterwords: Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods, Disfigure Study / 7 Aug 2002English

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Contextual note
This text is part of the project Afterwords, curated by Jeroen Peeters for the festival ImPulsTanz Vienna in summer 2002. Every night, three critics in residence shared their impressions and thoughts on the performances immediately after having seen them, in an act of instantaneous writing. During the process of writing, these comments were projected in the theatre lobby and later that night made available on the websites and
A selection of the texts by Jeroen Peeters is available on Sarma, in a slightly edited version, sometimes with a postscript. Two essays elucidate the project Afterwords and reflect on its poetical and political implications. To retrieve the material, search under: ‘Afterwords’.

‘Disfigure Study’ is a myth, the moment when the visionary oeuvre of Meg Stuart was initiated, the very start of dance and performance in the nineties, not to say the take-off of the nineties itself. Artistically speaking, the image one has in mind of this performance after ten years unfolds itself also in strange proportions through mental wanderings. It commences somewhere with an autonomous body part, detached by way of light, and ends up in violent images of bodies exploding, limbs falling apart and brains coming out. A highbrow horror movie. I overdo it a little, but it is clear that the trace left of ‘Disfigure Study’ is a merely phantasmatic space. As if the myth allows and enhances the phantasm.

A few days ago I came across dancer Simone Aughterlony after a whole day of rehearsal. She was dead tired, I was wondering what there was still to be rehearsed, the premiere of this retake happened already a few months ago? "The movement actually," she replied, "it is pretty difficult, if you are not awake and attentive you might end up with your head crashing into the floor. Brains coming out…" The myth seems to hold, the phantasm haunts even the dancers.

No wonder that ‘Disfigure Study’ gives way to a dissemination of phantasms, for what it proposes it not an image but a series of choreographed figures of absence. In that sense it doesn't leave an outlined memory, it is an invitation to enter a traumatic realm – or not. (Or how the myth necessarily exceeds itself.)