No dance we know

Richard Murphet experiences Meg Stuart’s No One is Watching at the Adelaide Festival

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

There are several days after a grand mal seizure in which you remain within the terrifying aura of the convulsion. During this period it is impossible to distinguish between the inner world emanating from your traumatised temporal lobes and the outer world, from which you can feel an overwhelming energy of aggression and anarchy. I have had to stop driving a car three days after a fit because it is filled with a mixture of shouts I cannot quite decipher and an unbearably loud low-pitched hum. I look out the window and the actions not only of people but of traffic seem fragmented and lacking the comfort of cause and effect.

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods’ No-One Is Watching takes place in such an epileptic world. The psyche, the society, the civilisation has been seized and is convulsing. Attempts are made by one or occasionally two of the figures within to connect with another, to express an emotion which has something to do with tenderness. Unfortunately, at the time, the intended receiver is not watching, possessed by a force that has little to do with love.

I came to No-One Is Watching with Vertov’s film Man With A Camera and Pierre Henry’s extraordinary musique concrete accompaniment fresh in mind. Like Stuart, Vertov fragmented his world—in his case, in camera and in editing. There feels (and almost is) a century difference between them, however. Vertov’s fragmentation was his way of capturing the sheer energy of the early Soviet state. Stuart’s fragmentation is the condition of a civilisation lying twitching on what Heiner Muller has called “these despoiled shores”. Similarly, Vincent Malstaf’s composition for No-One Is Watching is Pierre Henry forty years down the track—electronic, sampling, looping, nothing ever quite starting, nothing ever quite finishing, nothing distinct, epileptic.

This is what Jenny Kemp described in a forum as the landscape of the psyche. Bleak in its depiction, extraordinary to watch. The tiniest everyday gestures repeated reveal here not the inner resonances of Kemp’s work but become the obsessive ingredients of a diseased state that gradually and always inevitably spreads throughout the entire group. And there is an inexorability to the rhythm. If the group was ever able to find some sense of physical unity (and this was always in pain or obsession and usually without any individual recognising the others) there was always one individual who broke the pattern, who became preoccupied with another state of being. This is nothing new in movement choreography. But here the power lay in the fact that the very actions that the individual was setting up in contradistinction to the group so often became the seeds for the next wave of disease that spread throughout. There is it seems no way out and the entrapment here lies in the very form of group dance structure itself.

The dance for me was at its most powerful either in the fragments of states of being when no complete image was achieved or in the moments of suspension of action when the stage was filled with the memory of past events, or with the threat of what was to come—most of the company standing, sitting or lying, witnessing in the movement of one of them the seeds of their destruction. It was least interesting when dance became representational and traded off the audience’s empathy with what was being represented. It is always hard to watch madness being acted.

This is not dance as we used to know it. It is cruder, less abstract and more directly metaphoric than that. More power to it.

No-One Is Watching, Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods (U.S.), The Space.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 15

© Richard Murphet; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1996