Framing moods and movements: welcome to Meg Stuart’s ‘Atelier’

If she would be using a paintbrush, what would her canvasses look like? With that thought in mind, I left Kaaitheater Studios (Brussels), right after the premiere of Atelier, the new work-in-progress by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods. It consists of a series of scenes in a small arena surrounded by the audience, looking down on the dancers. To me each scene felt like a new painting, in which Stuart is trying to capture something different. As a questioning of certain feelings, moods and aspects of the human body. But as she is dealing with movement, and it’s impossible to capture what she’s trying to investigate into one ‘frame’, we label this ‘contemporary dance’. Fascinating stuff.

Frankly, there’s a lot I don’t understand about Atelier. But I guess that has to do with the fact that Atelier is meant to be some sort of research lab. It’s Meg Stuart gearing up for her next performance, which will premiere at PACT Zollverein (Essen) in July. But it doesn’t make this Atelier one bit less interesting. Because what becomes strikingly clear (once again) is Stuarts craftmanship. Her ability to almost chirurgically isolate one movement or one mood and dissect that in a scene. She does so, most strikingly, in a scene in which she is just by herself on that ‘stage’, taking on different positions and freeze framing them. But all the group scenes, as well, are proof of her keen eye. You’ll see people crawling on the floor, hugging, fighting, shaking, sweating; sometimes repeating just that one movement. Or: what happens if one movement becomes a different one. What about that shift?

All of that takes place in an impressive construction by scenographer Jozef Wouters. With wooden scaffolding (two stories high) he has transformed Kaaitheater’s smaller space into a makeshift arena/lion’s den. As an audience you are looking down on the ‘stage’, on which you’ll see the dancers, musician Brendan Dougherty (sometimes behind his laptop, sometimes behind a drum kit) and stoned poet/’asylum seeker’ Eric Andrew Green.

Once again, even though I didn’t get what was going on all the time (dancers hiding in the bushes, as if in a giant terrarium?), it never tired me. And after every less successful moment came a better one that made it strikingly clear how Meg Stuart got her reputation for being a gifted artist/choreographer. All she needed, for instance, for that one scene that my mind will be linking to the word Atelier for quite a while, was a couple of 3D glasses. Let the dancers put them on, make them wave their hands and then just add the perfect, pulsating soundtrack. Wo-how!

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