Are We Here Yet?

3 April 2010

In Essen last weekend for performances of the double bill I made some years back with Meg Stuart, and for the launch of a great new book on her work titled Are We Here Yet? Put together by Jeroen Peeters and Meg in collaboration Are We Here Yet? explores Meg’s work, process and documentation with contributions (interviews, short texts, essays, working-drawings, photographs, video stills, notebook pages and so on) from a great many of Meg’s collaborators past and present including Myriam Van Imschoot, Anna Viebrock, Benoît Lachambre and André Lepecki.

Below you find the short text I wrote for the book. You can see some pages, and order Are We Here Yet? online.


Tuning In

Often it has been a matter of stepping on a plane to go somewhere, to go some dark place (a studio, a theatre) that at first sight (on arrival some blurred morning) is very like the room I work in with Forced Entertainment but at the same time not like it at all – as if in some once familiar place everything was taken one night or early morning and shifted, slightly down or to the left. In this realigned room, most likely in daylight or else in near darkness I’d find a group of people, talking, working, already half way into some improv, some investigation, some kind of conversation that might have lasted weeks. Or it might be a break and a sound guy would be busy with something – the whole room bending with shards of music, atmospheres that are somehow stopped, paused, tweaked and restarted. Or else, as my eyes get used to the half-light, video projections might shimmer here and there – pixelated ghosts flashing on the walls of a house, or some temporary structure, or on the walls and floor of the studio. In any case people talk, wait, move on, and many of them – as it seems at least – are working and talking with different agendas, if not exactly at cross purposes, heading this way and that. It’s a group for sure but not constituted evenly, not made for its appearance but for its hybrid, unbalanced functionality. Looking round in the dark, you get this sense of material haunting the room already, of scenes that are being worked on, dances in the process of morphing or tightening, texts whispered and repeated, texts that have been put in, thrown out, and are now put back in again. On the wall there will be pictures, most likely, and some texts – scrawled or photocopy pages.

Things pull together before a run through and most likely I’m listening, trying to catch what’s on the wind. When Meg talks it’s a sketching or scattering of language, not quite sentences, but more a temporary constellation of words, always in motion, a flicker of birds (perhaps digital ones, or scrolling on video), at the centre of which, unspoken, is what she’s reaching for. Precise and impossible to fathom at the same time. Or at least, again, that’s how it seems. Arriving in this room I’m bringing with me fragments of writing perhaps – some lines, some paragraphs. Or I’m bringing with me nothing but the time to sit there, watch, absorb and then react. Bringing attention from one place to another – tuning in. And I’m listening often, amazed at the flow and falter of the conversation between this group in this room, which, again, is so like that in the room I spent much of the last 25 years with Forced Entertainment but, again, so different, as if things were shifted upwards, or just over to the right. I watch Meg sometimes, from the corner of my eye, paying close attention I guess because the job she does here is the one that I do myself most often – as some kind of director/ organiser, the editor, the putting-togetherer, chair-person of some especially strange and unruly committee. Watching her as if understanding what she does might help me understand what I do. At times (I remember quite hazily one hotel room or dressing room late night meeting with a lot of people) I really just can’t see what she’s doing at all or I can’t see how she does what she is doing, or I can’t imagine what it is that she wants, and more than anything at times I can’t quite imagine how this process (which seems to be circling and uncertain, too-many-directional, distracted even from and by its own distractions) is going to get there in any case. And at times there seem to be so many opinions, so many ideas, so much noise in fact that I really start to wonder why she works like this, with so many voices around. But what I’ve learned (from my role in this, my from-time-to-time presence and voice in all this) is that Meg is only listening sometimes, absorbing boldly at others, and at other times (maybe always) she is processing, deep in the background, riding the waves of what goes on in the room. That all this stuff (conversations, improvisations, texts, ideas for videos, spatial constructions, music, movements) are moving in and out and around of her, waiting for a moment where the need or the intelligence of it coheres and she has something in her sights, or in her hands or on her hands like blood or there, out there in the space, something shaking, moving on the floor of the studio. And again, arriving in a specific kind of half-light what I’ve learned is to trust this other person’s feeling-for-something in a busy room, sifting, filtering, processing voices and bodies, a feeling-for-something which I guess is like mine but not at all the same.

Other times, what I’m faced with is a DVD rehearsal tape, shot from the back of the room, wide angle for the most part, recording the traces of movements, speeches. I skim back and forth – trying to make out details, listening to scenes. People dance up and down a staircase, or endlessly stumble and fall in the recording of that room’s half-light. I’m looking for 8.25-32 or for 56.19 onwards. Scenes that need input of text. I’m watching, making notes. Not sure what I’m looking at, not sure what I’m looking for exactly (there is no exactly, not yet) but looking and listening anyway. Tuning in. Long distance. Trying to get the measure of something that is taking shape in a room far away. It’s not channelling and it’s not remote viewing but there is probably a little of each of them in this process. I write some notes. The movement of bodies in one place is pressed onto a DVD somehow, Fedexed across an ocean and then transferred to a screen. Once it’s there, on the screen in front of me, I’m attending to it and the movements, (or the charge of the movements) is transferring from the screen to me. Twitches and shadows of the movement ghosting into me, leg twitch, shoulder move, hand clench, hips shift. In the deteriorated image on screen (bad light conditions and a hasty DVD) I can make out this or that person I know, a dancer speaking words I might have written, or words that she here has improvised. I’m typing as I watch – fragments of the text transferring to the screen of the laptop much as the movements whisper themselves to my body. Later I will carry this text, which I have ghost written here to the there I can see on the screen, collapsing distance, space/time, putting my words again in the mouth of another.

Meg writes me that she has an exercise called ‘remote partners in contact’, a duet contact dance where she ask one dancer to leave the studio and have coffee down the street while the other stays in the rehearsal room, knowing that they are agreeing, despite the distance, to dance together… connecting through distance. She tells me this because she knows of course that this is what we have been doing for a long time, eight years or so.

Or at other times we are in the same room. And I’m watching her move in that way which endlessly takes the same body (hers) and pulls it into different focus, morphing biology, pulling up from the shadows all the many possible and impossible versions of itself. It sounds cliché and stupid to say that there is a child there, an old woman, a beautiful woman, a girl again, an adolescent, a monster, a ghost, an animal, a man. Sure, but watching her you feel these things directly, presently, concretely just as if ‘I’ were to reach out of the page and touch your hand. There is something super tangible about this, which for me has been the great gift of working with the small number of dancers that I’ve worked who all in their own way somehow made me understand a little better that bodies themselves are plural, or that bodies can be fluid as a blank page, haunted as a house, possessed and shapeshifted in relation to their own past and future, their own environment, context, or possibility. Maybe that’s been the gift of this, amongst other things – the task I’ve had from time to time of finding the right phantom words for the body phantoms that multiply in Meg’s work.

We are sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Meg and I. We are talking about the possibilities and impossibilities of group work, or what it means to work in performance and how to continue doing so, of how to hold things together, or how to let things drift apart. It’s not the same what we do, not by any means, and the institutional structures we work inside are different but at the same time there is a recognition of something, of similar experience, related questions.

Or, later, much later, like now, for example, I’m on the train whilst writing this text, laptop on the table as we’re speeding through green wet fields of English summer. Sky gray, flat. And as I write I’m guessing that  Meg is in Berlin, and I’m guessing she’s awake but maybe not since long. Maybe sitting at a table at a window. Out there in the sunshine I’m guessing she sees an airplane. Vapour trail. A vapour trail viewed remotely/danced at a distance. For a moment my moves echo hers, then a pause and maybe her eyes close. Connection closes. The train I’m in enters a tunnel. Meg and I are something like a thousand miles apart (I can’t connect to internet so I can’t use Google to check this) but let’s say we are a thousand miles apart. When the train comes out of the tunnel I’m looking at hedges and fields again and the windows are quickly streaked with rain.