BOOK OF THE MONTH (5): how does a choreographer like Meg Stuart create work?

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably saw this one coming. But it’s not because I’m a fan of Meg Stuart’s work that I’ve chosen Are we here yet? as my book of the month. It is truly because this is an intriguing book about the work of this American choreographer and her Brussels-based company Damaged Goods. ‘I didn’t want a book that would be collecting dust on a coffee table’, the choreographer said, yesterday, during the presentation of Are we here yet? in Brussels (Kaaitheater). So if you were waiting for a book with nice pictures documenting her performances, you’ll have to wait a little longer. If you are, as I am, intrigued by Stuart’s universe and her way of working, you’ll find plenty to read in this great book, that makes its intentions quite clear from the very first sentence.

How does a choreographer like Meg Stuart create work? That’s the first sentence editor Jeroen Peeters writes in his introduction. Even for interested audiences the creative process remains mostly inaccessible and the dance studio a foreign space. Peeters (a Brussels- based writer, curator, dramaturge and performer) is not interested in trying to document every single one of Meg Stuart’s performances and in deciphering every little detail of it. No: how did these performances originate? How do you create, as a contemporary choreographer?

And thus Peeters conducted hours and hours of interviews with Stuart and loads of people who have collaborated with the American choreographer. He also sat in on all of the rehearsals (2004-2006) of Stuart’s performance Replacement. Are we here yet? isn’t chronologically ordered. It doesn’t even have a table of contents. It was Peeters’ and Stuart’s intention that you could pick up this book, open it and start reading wherever you wanted to and make up your own trajectory.

I for instance, decided, after flipping through the book and looking at the wonderful pictures it gladly has too, to start on page 116: In pieces is a chapter in which Stuart gives a short, personal description of each of her performances. Dancers will probably take this book right into their rehearsal studios and start on page 154: in an intriguing chapter Stuart describes a lot of the exercises she uses during rehearsals, such as Looking at your own body as if you were dead, One hour shaking or Recreate your first dance class.  

Among the contributors to Are we here yet? you’ll find a lot of the dancers and artists Stuart has worked with (Tim Etchells, Benoît Lachambre, Jorge León, Hahn Rowe, Anna Viebrock). As to not get entirely lost you’ll find a short bio of each and every one of them at the back of the book, as well as a chronological list of all of Stuart’s performances.

How do we know it is the end, is one of the last sentences of the book. When art becomes a habit. Glad she isn’t there yet.

‘Are we here yet’ (edited by Jeroen Peeters) is published by Les presses du réel. There’s a French and an English version available. Info here.


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