It’s no joke

For American choreographer Meg Stuart, laughter in her work has been a recurring theme.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
November 10, 2013 21:35
4 minute read.
Choreographer Meg Stuart.

Choreographer Meg Stuart 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Have you ever laughed for an hour? Can you imagine what it would feel like to continuously chuckle for a full 60 minutes? On Tuesday night in the heart of Jaffa, a group of curious participants discovered that laughing is no laughing matter.

The event, entitled One Single Action: Laughing, was hosted by American-born, European-based choreographer Meg Stuart, who is visiting the country as a guest of Arkadi Zaides’ Moves Without Borders project.

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Stuart’s long-anticipated arrival in Israel was part of the Berlin Dayz program, an initiative of the Goethe Institute.

“The interesting thing about laughter is that the body can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter. I find that so fascinating,” said Stuart over a cup of coffee at Café Suzanna in Neve Tzedek.

Laughter has been a recurring theme in Stuart’s work. “I made a piece a few years back called It’s Not Funny. It was the darkest summer of my life,” she said.

“When Arkadi and I were discussing my visit, he insisted that I host a laughter workshop.

It’s super challenging to laugh for an entire hour. During that time, the participants go through fake and real laughter.

There are amazing moments of exchange, of touching one another and of the release of tension. It can get really wild.”

Stuart is a striking woman with a blond bob and a muscular build. Over the past 20 years, she has become one of the most influential voices in the international dance community. Her performances meld powerfully dynamic movement with text, live music and visual art. She is the founder and director of the Brussels-based company Damaged Goods, for which she has created over 30 productions.

Stuart’s work is often referred to as theatrical.

“I am interested in looking at situations from all sides. I look at how we create meaning with movement, how we speak with our bodies,” she explained. Part of her ongoing investigation is devoted to the connection between physical and emotional states.

Her whirlwind career officially began in the early 1990s in Europe. After completing her studies in New York City, Stuart was invited to present an evening-length work, Disfigure Study, at the Klapstuk Festival in Leuven.

“That premier was really special for me. People don’t invite young choreographers with the credentials I had back then to present work like that any more. I barely survived making that piece,” she said with a laugh.

Though she has a lot more experience now, Stuart was hesitant to say that creating work has gotten easier. “I am in a constant dialogue with what I’ve done before. I feel a sense of responsibility when I create.”

Zaides and Stuart met five years ago at the Ponderosa Movement and Discovery Festival in Germany.

“I was very intrigued by Arkadi’s dancing as well as his point of view. In 2010 he started writing to me about his dream to invite me to visit,” said Stuart. In March, Moves Without Borders hosted Swedish performance artist and choreographer Marten Spangberg. Later this year, Stuart’s longtime collaborator Phillip Gehmacher will become the third artist to accept Arkadi’s invitation. Gehmacher was meant to visit last year however he canceled due to political tensions.

“I had some hesitation about visiting because of the situation here. I was performing in Beirut last May, which was the first time I had presented my work in the Middle East. But recently, in Europe, I have met so many Israeli dancers. I was teaching a workshop and I think eight out of the 20 participants were from here.

“So I started to feel like there was something going on here. The Israeli dancers I have met have been very well trained, interesting and interested individuals. I decided that I wanted to give support to the community here.”

Aside from the laughter session, Stuart taught a three-day improvisation workshop hosted by Kelim Choreography in Bat Yam during her stay. When word got out that the workshop was meant to happen, dancers and choreographers frantically signed up. The list of attendees had to be closed nearly the same day it was opened due to the high demand, leaving many names on the waiting list.

“It’s a big deal for me to teach. I don’t teach a lot these days but I learn a lot from teaching. I like teaching because it gives me an opportunity to see what’s going on with the dancers and to share the principles of my work. It’s a more first-hand experience of my work than when I perform,” she explained.

To finish off her premier visit to Tel Aviv, Stuart performed at Mahsan 2 in Jaffa on Friday night. The program, An Evening Of Solos, was a combination of excerpts from Stuart’s rich repertoire and new sections that Stuart is currently developing.

“There is a solo in the evening that I made in 1995 but there are also completely new bits. It’s really special for me to show a work in progress here in Israel. I am making a solo right now that will premier in March,” Stuart explained.

“When I started I asked myself a lot of questions. ‘What’s left in my container? What’s essential to me now?’ I would love to come back to Israel to show the full piece once it’s made or to present a group work.”

For more information about Moves Without Borders, visit www.arkadizaides.com


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