It’s like… He talks a bit and she dances a bit: ‘Shown And Told’ (Meg Stuart & Tim Etchells)

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“I dance because I wanted to be a magician but I’m not good with stuff”, Meg Stuart tells the audience, somewhere along Show And Told, her collaboration with Tim Etchells. If the piece proves one thing, it’s how good the American choreographer and the British (performance) artist actually are with stuff. Be it other stuff. Movement stuff. Language stuff.

It’s like… Well. He talks a bit and she dances a bit. Then she talks, and he… tries to move a bit. Summarized in two sentences, Shown And Told would look a bit like… this. It is the kind of piece in which nothing spectacular happens, but what happens can be spectacular, if you’re willing to look and listen.

Meg Stuart and Tim Etchells. A combination that undoubtedly will arouse the interest of many festival programmers. A well-known choreographer (Damaged Goods) and a respected performance artist (Forced Entertainment) collaborating. But Shown And Told isn’t a piece for the big stages. It feels more like a low-key workshop. A “structured improvisation” is what they call it.

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They have been working together on a number of occasions in the past. Etchells contributed text to a couple of Meg’s pieces (for instance: Alibi, in 2001). They met again, working on Expo Zéro, an improvisation project by Boris Charmatz in Berlin in 2014 and decided to do this piece together.

What they share is “an interest in fragments, in parts of a movement, gesture or state”, Stuart and Etchells told the audience at a post performance talk at Kaaitheater (Brussels; December 2016). “What it is to work with them as pieces. Assemble them, disassemble them. And it is interesting to see somebody do the same in another language.” Etchells: “For instance, I’m interested in things such as stream of consciousness, in reinventing and morphing language. Bringing that to Meg opens it in a different way.”

Or as he phrased it, in an interview in the Kaaitheater programme (text here): “The biggest and simplest connection is our common idea of a human being as a kind of meeting point for many different voices, impulses or presences. Many forces, narratives and possibilities move through us in any give moment.” What he and Meg do not have, Etchells said during the talk, is a “shared methodology”. And thus: doing this performance together “is a bit off territory, and that’s the attraction of working together.”

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It’s clear that it is appealing for them to do this together. But they are clever enough to come up with a performance that isn’t too self-centered or hermetic. It’s actually quite interesting and sometimes funny to see them play with movement and language. What they come up with on stage might be simple, light and straightforward, but by the way they present all of this to an audience, you just feel that these two bodies and minds carry a couple of decades of experience. Just don’t expect spectacular things to happen.

Next stops: Leuven (Oct 11 & 12) and Paris (November 24, 25 & 26, 2017).

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