Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods : Until Our Hearts Stop

Image Credit: Iris JankeImage Credit: Iris Janke

On Generosity and Trauma…Until Our Hearts Stop
Kaaitheater, Brussels November 20th, 2016

Can you even remember that space where familiarity meets collision, a pain on the touch yet with warmth in the aftermath, a trauma at sight but with such a generosity to the heart?

As I sit back and listen to Stefan, the pianist, playing jazz, my eyes glaze over to the shimmering down-lit lamps on stage. My thoughts wander to memories of a young boy on a sofa, in a bar of some non-descript hotel in a sleepy mountain village, sunk in the wintery snow… listening to the same rhythmic jazz drowning the night away.

My attention drifts back to the stage as I hear Marc, the drummer, let out a scream of pleasure. He is entangled with Neil and Jared on the sofa, all three with their shirts off, teasing one another with gentle slaps across the chest, belly, back, bottom. They giggle like little boys do, as they take turns being submissive to one another’s act of benevolent violence. One feels an uncanny resistance creeping up from under their skin, yet they actively continue to slap and laugh, another slap and a giggle.

I laugh in reaction to hearing them laugh, whilst something stirs within my own felt sense. The slaps become a bit harder as the sound of a palm across the abdomen resonates throughout the auditorium. A giggle turns into a short yelp, but the game carries on. I feel something shift within me, as my laughter very quickly turns into pain. There can be warmth in a touch, but it can also hurt, to then be full of love again. The small bursts of ecstatic contact unravel in an environment that is safe, yet one where risk is felt nonetheless. I become aware of an intimate setting being exposed, where one blissfully blinks at the contorting line between making an act of love and one of violence. With haste, I am brought to that region which Walter Benjamin defines as “the very limits of language’s possibilities… to the threshold of what cannot be known through language [where] culture exhausts its function.” I am confronted with a violence that needs no justification, which allows me to laugh and indulge in my ever-conscious inebriation.

Before I can think any further, Claire gallops across the stage; she has become a horse, and her dress is made out of long flowing hair. As she goes from one end of the basement to the other, she takes my eyes to a stack of paintings next to the sofa, of which all but one will get revealed to the audience later on. My imagination is left to wander in relation to what stories lay hidden on those (blank?) canvases, as one recalls the (stolen) possessions of Cornelius Gurlitt, who had “never loved anything more than [his] paintings. Parting from them was the most painful moment in [his] life – worse than the death of [his] father, [his] mother or [his] sister.”

There is an abundance of magic in this room, hiding behind every corner, waiting to appear in its given moment. Symbolism pervades the imagery before my eyes, as each character tells the story of a forgotten time, a silver diamond on the ground, a violet rug and velvet curtain, a triangular cupboard in the corner. A woman in a shining dress walks out under a spotlight and a man in an evening jacket descends a staircase from another realm.

The ghosts of Aleister Crowley and Wilhelm Reich creep in as the magic becomes ritual, and nudity turns into the norm. The performers run off stage, and into the audience, each carrying with them a little story to share: a piece of clay or a bottle of whiskey, a heart full of enthusiasm, wanting to give ever more of themselves. Is it too much? Or is it simply the breadth of the generosity we have left behind? I watch Neil, as he offers a woman sitting in front of me, to rub some lotion onto his sweaty body, and then pick wherever she would like to smell him, wherever she likes! He jumps a few more rows, ecstatically telling an elderly couple about a book he’s been reading, wanting desperately to share his thoughts with them.

I feel myself continuously on the edge of something, nostalgia and familiarity, a constant collision with the risk of my own suppressed thoughts being revealed. What I see embodied in the enchanted room subsides as my nostrils become filled with the smell of burning incense.

For every touch I witness before my eyes, I feel a phantom aching; but as soon as that burning sensation wanes, warmth follows in its lead, a smile. After every moment of trauma, we are brought back to the generous hearts beating before us, around us. In Giorgio Agamben’s words, this poetry introduces a form of persuasion that does not rely on truth, but rather on the peculiar emotional effects of rhythm and music, acting both violently and bodily. And whilst Plato may have decided to cast the poets out of the city, I would happily invite them into my home.

The microphone crackles and a silent voice begins to whisper.

“I cannot believe there are no metal detectors in this theatre.” Kristof says to Stefan, as he indulges us in his mock-Sinatra solo. We are suddenly thrust into the time that we are in, and not the one that we have left behind. As the show comes to a close and social media begin to invade the premises of our humble sanctuaries, we are informed of the security threat that has just been raised within the city. A different type of risk comes to light, as some stay for a drink and others rush off home. I am forced to part from the magic that’s been planted on stage, as Gurlitt parts from his paintings. I am thankful for what has been offered this evening, as it transgresses the boundaries of what the theatre can offer in a time of contorted distress; of the generosity we as artists can offer… a felt sense of grounding to ourselves and to those around us, which can last even after our hearts stop.

Choreography Meg Stuart
Created with and performed by Neil Callaghan, Jared Gradinger, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Claire Vivianne Sobottke, Kristof Van Boven

Live music Samuel Halscheidt, Marc Lohr, Stefan Rusconi
Creation original music Paul Lemp, Marc Lohr, Stefan Rusconi
Dramaturgy Jeroen Versteele
Scenography Doris Dziersk
Costume design Nadine Grellinger
Light design Jurgen Kolb, Gilles Roosen

Assistant choreography Francisco Camacho
Assistant scenography Giulia Paolucci
Assistant costume design Davy van Gerven
Artistic assistant Igor Dobricic

The performance is dedicated to our friend and musician Paul Lemp.

Production manager Sabrina Schmidt
Technical direction Oliver Houttekiet
Production Damaged Goods & Münchner Kammerspiele
co-production PACT Zollverein (Essen), Ruhrtriennale – Festival der Künste

Special thanks to Klara Luhmen, Peter Pleyer, Dasniya Sommer, Tami Tamaki, Aurore Werniers and Uferstudios (Berlin).

Stefan Jovanović is an architect & director who works with narrative-based projects in collaboration with film-makers, dancers and designers. He has worked with multi-faceted dance, theatre, dining, and art collectives in the past, most recently with Astronaut Kawada Architecture, Pret a Diner, LabDORA and Musée de la Danse. His current research and work revolve around the integration of movement, health & shamanism within architectural design.