Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Ordinary People

September 25, 2009

Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher in Maybe Forever

Are you missing Pina Bausch and wondering who might step into her enormous yet fleet-footed shoes? Well how about Meg Stuart. I would be remiss to pop out-of-town to San Francisco this weekend without mentioning Maybe Forever, the dance program this week at REDCAT featuring Stuart and her collaborators, dancer/choreographer Philipp Gehmacher and musician Niko Hafkenscheid. Stuart has been working for years primarily in Europe with her own company only periodically appearing in the US. Gehmacher, whose troupe is based in Vienna, found a kindred spirit in Stuart that led to Maybe Forever, a work that also incorporates music and lyrics from Hafkenscheid. The single act, 80-minute piece has an austere beauty in the face of a decidedly anti-lyrical approach to movement.

Maybe Forever opens with two barely visible figures lying on what appears to be a beach in the near total darkness of the REDCAT theater. The two roll and struggle on the neutral shore as electric music drones in the background. It was fascinating and not at all overdone. When the lights come up, a small curtained room that could be anywhere appears. Hafkensheid enters with his electric guitar and begins to perform the solo tracks that accompany Maybe Forever. They are tuneful songs which alternate with pre-recorded bits of sound and music all of which mirrors the claustrophobic feel of the gray carpeted room. There is a small riser on the left but the space surrounded by heavy dark curtains is only remarkable otherwise for a giant photo of dandelions against the back wall that appears black-and-white initially, but with a change in lighting, bursts into full color. The space feels both anonymous and domestic at the same time and while the dances will later on pull back the curtain and walk out of the space and back, the sense of enclosure and forced normalcy pervades.

The movement is not about great romantic sweeping gestures but more often than not gives off a feel of everyday woes and distress. Often Stuart and Gehmacher seem to be embarking on the same kind of expression you or I might have sitting in an office or at home as we stretch or arch to scratch ourselves. But its exactly this contrast between an ordinary world and the surprising presence of movement that makes Maybe Forever fun to watch. There are implications of a relationship between the two characters as they seem to mimic everyday intimacies - sitting, watching, and holding hands. But the piece never seems to stray into a cliche story of a relationship. There are spoken word passages as well that punctuate the activity but never submerge into the realm of bad poetry. It's a very good show on a rare visit from Stuart and Gehmacher and Los Angeles was lucky to see it.


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