The following observations are courtesy of Morgan Thorson, choreographer:
Enter a small light (flashlight) that bounces in the darkness, carried by an individual (Hahn) who seems to be traveling uneven terrain. (A foreshadowing of what’s to come?) My eyes scan to find the others in the dim light. Two figures, Meg Stuart and Benoit Lachambre, are seated close to the edge of the space. I can make out some shaking movement. Laughing? Crying? I’m intrigued but cautious. Forgeries, Love and Other Matters begins. Meg dives into weeping state, chest heaving and legs splayed, while seated next to Benoit. Her shuddering and his tender hand-holding bond them together. Conveying the emotional state of pain is her way of entering the piece and connecting to herself and Benoit. She also sets up the viewer’s trajectory. However, as a performer and choreographer she’s treading difficult territory. She’s an expert, fully experienced for an emotional display and it’s an easy hook for us. We know the nature of pain and comfort. We can identify. I’m thankful for the simplicity. But like I said I’m cautious. It’s too basic, too easy. I’m not afraid of her pain, or Benoit’s tenderness. What really makes me uncomfortable is that I’m afraid I won’t go for this set up. Are Meg and Benoit that optimistic about life and relationships? I doubt that they are. Can I become involved in something that I don’t fully trust in the moment? I repeat to myself what Meg said the other night, “ can this be a dance?”; this being the emotional and physical bond that they show us? Throughout this piece, we watch her and her cohorts navigate many spaces, moving inside and outside of emotional, physical and theatrical landscapes, while building and breaking down actions together and alone. But what keeps me deeply engaged is, not what they do, but the theatrical environment –the massive brown hills covered with brown fur (fake grass) that dwarf these lost, despondent characters. So far, the furry brown landscape is the star of the show.
Even though I feel manipulated by the facile choices of Forgeries, Love and Other Matters, to its credit, I begin to move inside the work as these characters begin to move within the massive set. I don’t care where they came from or who they are to each other. I want to be taken because the set is so tactile, so compelling. Now the choreography extends organically from the emotional seed of pain and comfort, while the content itself is sometimes strange and behavioral. It’s only within the context of the benevolent landscape that Benoit and Meg’s parasitic comforting turns into an array of necessary and essential actions, giving further credence to their evolving relationship and purpose to the movement sequences of vomiting, pissing (but no actual pee), sliding, wrestling as well as the herky-jerky naked Neanderthal striding at the very top of the hill. I’m happily disgusted when Benoit plucks a piece of Meg’s regurgitated mush from the carpet and puts it in his mouth. I applaud the excavation of his raw survival mode that puts him at the bottom of the feeding chain. I’m gleeful as they slip up and slide down the slopes. I respond with a stomach-in-throat sensation of a quick fall.
Around this time, Meg truly shines as choreographer and performer when her personal and interpersonal torment turns into a series of rapid angular antics. She obsessively squares her small yet sturdy frame with forceful horizontal arm thrusts atop of bent, sturdy legs, that seem both firm and supple as she shifts and scoots down the diagonal. I’m thankful she repeats the sequence. The rhythm, form and feeling are exquisite, her embodiment rivaling the theatrical grandure of the furry landscape. Her choreography is still comprised of actions, feelings and impulses that have been piled high, just like the mounds, since the beginning of the show. She lets off steam, revs herself up, and can’t help it. She’s en route which makes all of her initial emoting most crucial and necessary.
At the same time Benoit’s physicality is powerfully provocative. Initially his embodied despondency (crying and wailing) makes me uncomfortable, because of his potent awkwardness and narcotic nods and rebounds. His stature and gate reminds me of Rockets Redglare, a shady character from my past. (Under this assumed moniker, Rockets was a fixture of the downtown New York street scene in the 80’s and was in a few Hollywood flicks always posing as himself, a hard core, lower east sider. He was also a sleazy, veteran, east village junky who, when truly down and out, would sell his methadone doses to desperate addicts, like me, sick and itchy.) As I watch Benoit writhe and fall, I sit with myself, wrestling with ants-in-my-pants feelings. I try to intellectually back out of the association, reason it away, by changing my viewing – analyzing his approach and intention. Anything, but the feeling… I cede, finally. Benoit’s body, whether he knows it or not, conveys a lethal history. He is dead on and I am hooked on him and repulsed at the same time. (I am obsessed with his tight jeans, scars and tree-like trunk.)
The ingeniously rich sounds and melodies collaged by Hahn Rowe provide yet another rich terrain with sonic loads of foreground and background. At times the score swells through the space generating a persistent rhythm that moves inside the actors and propels them into motion. Or, just when the viewer is saturated by the emotive action (and/or when Benoit and Meg appear to be stuck in a mundane repetition of a recognizable human behavior) the sound moves inside our bodies and eases the didactic raw nature of the material. The sculptural and spatial nature of the music is an extension of the inside/outside inquiry that is established from the get-go.
The most successful journey inside is the uncovering of a secret room within the rolling hills of the set. During this section we see Benoit in this white cubicle in a white lab coat. He is no longer animal, or emotive, but analytical and literal. In fact for a long time he states exactly what he sees like a scientist collecting data and pushes this to the point where he is examining Meg, naked, commenting objectively on the condition of her skin. I love this moment. I love his endless list and his dry, emotionless delivery. I love that Meg plays doctor/scientist too. They don’t use this subterranean scene, a surprise turn, to be self referential, like so many experimental theater artists do. Instead they expound on the nature of things and their world. There is a deliberate flip of space, personality and expectation here. Finally we are inside, we expect to be at the emotional core, the epicenter of intimacy, yet both of these characters are dry, intellectual, surrounded by a stark white space sealed from our immediate world. We aren’t sure if they are in a bomb shelter, laboratory, or germ free environment. I enjoy feeling the distance, the ambiguity. From where I sit, the plexi-glass window provides only a partial view to the action. I have to lean way over to see. Now I’m a voyeur for sure.
As I see them nestled and playing in the furry landscape again later I realize that I have been witness to another sort of terrain, the emotional and kinesthetic topography of the physical inside. These characters, take turns writhing from inside to out, demonstrating their need of and similarity to each other. These artists are generous and are capable of rattling their own bones, remapping their cellular make-up with breath, sensation, and strong intention. They strip down to the bone and use each other. They grow. They want to go somewhere (Meg states this early on with the cliché “ are we there yet?”). We know at the end they arrive at a new place, (a new shelter is erected) but I’m not satisfied and I don’t think they are either. However, the physical theatrical landscape is still a central manifestation, a metaphor, for the amplitude of human emotional landscapes particularly the painful ones, the broken-heart-type of feeling. I think these seasoned artists are benevolent in that they want to create that for us. They want us to witness their journey and their banal contentment within that landscape. I leave not with the end, but a different final image. Benoit rocks and writhes full body prone, making love to this furry landscape. He scoops water from it surface, sated.