Credited for creating ‘a feast’ and ‘a space for play and imagination’, Sketches/Notebook by the American choreographer Meg Stuart creates a series of sketches and intimate scenes in which movement and action are reduced to their essence. Sharing the stage, dancers, artists and musician take the audience into a vibrant, playful world full of light, music, imagery and movement. Stuart is a familiar face at the Holland Festival. Over the years she has developed an uncompromising movement language for her often elusive pieces. Sketches/Notebook is an uncharacteristically heartwarming and generous performance.
Following her momumental and award-winning production Built to Last from 2012, the American choreographer Meg Stuart wanted to do something very different. In Built to Last with the Münchner Kammerspiele, at the time led by Johan Simons, she used existing classical and contemporary music pieces for the first time. This music formed the soundtrack to an impressive journey undertaken by five dancers through the history and possible future of dance.
The new project was supposed to be small, experimental, and free from explicit targets and well-defined frameworks. Annemie Vanackere, artistic director at Berlin's HAU Hebbel am Ufer, offered to help. Vanackere is one of Stuart's mentors, and has been following her since the beginning of her European career. She offered Stuart the HAU3 studio as a workspace for her and her dancers and gave her carte blanche. In this loft space at the HAU, the improvisation specialist could work undisturbed for several months. It marked the beginning of a new partnership between the Berlin theatre and Stuart's Brussels-based company Damaged Goods.
Stuart started by teaming up with other artists, inviting costume designer Claudia Hill, musician Brendan Gougherty and video artist Vladimir Miller to work with her on a performance which 'brings together different art forms in a ritual reformulating interdisciplinary forms of cooperation. This became Sketches/Notebook.
The basic idea behind the performance was a notebook with blank pages which are slowly filled with sketches and dingbats. Through the 'collective creativity', in Stuart's words, of four artists and five performers, a series of vignettes emerges. These scenes do not tell a straightforward story, but rather present inner conflict and emotions, in line with Stuart's self-styled hypermodern dance idiom. Her choreographies are characterised by improvisation-based movements, often spooky and raw, yet playful at the same time.
Reviewers have described Sketches/Notebook as 'a feast' and 'a space for play and imagination'. Stuart creates a refuge where imagery, movement, sound, costumes and light converge to build a collage of vibrant scenes, with performers gliding down a slope, turning, rolling, swaying their arms, disappearing into a formless mass of bodies, dancing with a cowbell and changing into new costumes every so many minutes.
Stuart's theme is the act of trying, the search for new forms and new collaborations. She wants to show what she thinks is lacking in the world today, which is 'the freedom to break things open, despite our collective desire for community'. It's no coincidence that the first part of the performance is of such infectious naivety. It shows the pleasure of exploring, which Stuart and her group engaged in up there in the Hau's loft space. The result is this celebrated, intimate – the audience sit on the stage floor, as close to the performers as possible – and heart-warming performance, which has been on an international tour and is now coming to Amsterdam.
In 2014, German dance magazine TANZ voted Meg Stuart Choreographer of the Year, quoting the indelible impression her last three performances have left. These are Built to Last, her first evening-length solo and most personal work to date Hunter, and the captivating experiment of Sketches/Notebook.
Meg Stuart had her breakthrough in 1991 with her first full evening-length piece Disfigure Study at the Klapstuk festival in Leuven. In this choreography, Stuart presents her unique movement language, focusing on distorted bodies and body parts. Her next piece, No Longer Readymade (1993) was another big success. After touring it around Europe. Stuart founded her own company Damaged Goods in 1994.
She took the name from one of the first reviews for Disfigure Study: 'Everyone on stage is shown as damaged goods,' wrote Burt Supree in The Village Voice. Stuart identified with this description of her work. Her choreographies are not focused on virtuosity, but rather on failure, on imperfection and maybe most of all on human insecurity.
In the 1990's Stuart created a series of innovative dance performances with her company, characterised by a critical take on tired conventions in dance, an approach described by some – either in admiration or disapproval - as anti-dance. The response to Stuart's work varied greatly, but the fact that it provoked such strong reactions is evidence of its power.
Stuart's rising fame and her growing body of work led to collaborations with various groups and artists. Her choreographies develop an increasingly strong multidisciplinary character. For each performance she looked for new forms of presentation. In 1997, she became resident artist at the Kaaitheater in Brussels. From there, she toured the world with her performances. Between 2000 and 2004. Stuart was artist in residence at the Zurich Schauspielhaus and between 2005 and 2010 at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin. Currently, Stuart has an on-going collaboration with the Berlin HAU Hebbel am Ufer. At the invitation of intendant Johan Simons, Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods will be collaborating with the Ruhrtriennale from 2015 to 2017.
In 20012, the Holland Festival presented her perfomance ALIBI, an intense exploration of violence and extremism, described by some as 'the first post 9/11 choreography'. In 2004, she performed in Forgeries, Love and Other Matters, a trio with Benoît Lachambre and musician Hahn Rowe. This season, Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods is touring with Built to Last (2012), An evening of solo works (2013), Sketches/Notebook (2013), Hunter (2014) and UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP (2015).
- a project by
- Meg Stuart
- created in collaboration with:
- Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos, Antonija Livingstone, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Julian Weber
- (live) music
- Brendan Dougherty
- scenography, projections
- Vladimir Miller
- Claudia Hill
- Mikko Hynninen
- creation assistant
- Ana Rocha
- assistant costumes
- Kahori Furukawa
- project researcher
- Nicola Rebeschini
- production manager
- Eline Verzelen
- technical director
- Oliver Houttekiet
- tour manager
- Annabel Heyse
- Richard König
- stage technician
- Gilles Roosen
- Damaged Goods (Brussel)
- HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlijn)
- with special support of
- Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Berlijn)
- thanks to
- Michael Borremans, Eric Andrew Green, Kroot Juurak, Laurie Young, Ada Studios (Berlijn), Uferstudios en Tanzfabrik - advancing performing arts project (Berlijn).