Only once during all of the TBA fest's
history have I seen anyone boo. "It's so self-indulgent," said the portly man in the striped shirt, at the end of the Maybe Forever performance. He'd furiously twitterpated on his iphone during the duration, before promising to quote the New York Times
on his blog to register his displeasure. He and I, apparently, had seen different shows. Because as it goes, it is rare that I have I ever seen a dance performance as controlled, deliberate, and effective as this one.
Meg Stuart started the show in a leather jacket, which creaked its discontent with her body's movements, as if her joints themselves were ill-suited to their purpose. "You remember when I said I couldn't live without you?" she said. "I take it back." She took back statement after statement, event after event until word was gradually overtaken by first literal, eventually abstracted gesture.
The performance as a whole, a character play of disjointed romance between Stuart and Gehmacher
, was an exercise of bodies that had become foreign to themselves, and of bodies who were only ever unsuitable for each other, in what (if plot counts) was narrated as what could perhaps best be described as a melodramatics of the physical. In their portrayal of a failed relationship, Stuart and Gehmacher performed what, done swiftly or less deliberatively, would have been histrionics, but when drawn out slowly and pinned as moths under glass, became instead a disturbed gallows wit.
There was a third person in this mix. Suave Euro-cool musician Niko Hafkenscheid
sang in soft Sam Prekop/Arto Lindsay voice, crooned over occasionally complicated waltzes, positioned himself prominently on the stage against the contortions of the two dancers. He would seem to be only jewelry around the drama's bruised neck, except that when he suddenly broke the fourth wall and spoke to the audience as if he were playing only to the audience, it became apparent that his melancholy music was never merely for the benefit of the dancers, nor even for the audience, but rather a prop supporting Hafkenshied' s own ego. Music became an intruder in the dance.
And even as Stuart herself tried to take everything back from the romance (and failed to do so), the music itself took itself back, played itself backwards as snippets of love songs (Chan Marshall singing "Try a Little Tenderness", Will Oldham interrupted mid-chorus) asserted themselves as threat or distraction. As the dissonance between reversed music and mixed manipulative romantic melodies reached its peak, the piece itself attained a crescendo of uncomfortable, frustrated longing that could only feel personal, even the dance's gestural fabric still announced itself as bruised abstraction.
It was a difficult performance, one that demanded much of its audience over its 90 minutes. Each setpiece rearranged the relationship between audience and dancers, dancers and each other, musician and crowd and performers. It is unsurprising, then, that so many of the audience members loudly rejected what was being asked of them. What was mistaken for self indulgence was instead an ambition tempered by almost painful and certainly unforgiving discipline. That a similar discipline was required of the audience should be taken not as fault but as primary virtue.