Friday, September 25, 2009

When It’s Not Forever

A dim pool of light reveals only form: two bodies leaning, tilted in parallel; then rolled apart, remote, withdrawn; the two connected by hands; suddenly one all tangled up; now two distinct bodies again. The opening of Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher’s Maybe Forever distills their journey – the remembering, processing, reliving of a love and its ending – to its essence. They come together and tear apart.

The room brightens and we see it is an eerily safe sort of place, where sound and action are muted by grey carpet and black curtains, and where a photograph of dandelions losing their fluff in the wind and melodious love songs crooned by a man in a shiny blue coat make us think pleasant thoughts. As with memory, here time passes achronologically – moments of intimacy mixed with and suddenly transformed into isolation. He beckons, laughing, backing up, and she launches into a running, jumping, full-body embrace. The impact knocks them to the floor where they scurry desperately and self-protectively apart, crumpled, clutching at their own arms and legs. He smiles shyly and reaches around her waist, then breaks off, stumbling, forearms stiffly outstretched and soft hands trembling.

From behind a microphone, Stuart reflects on the love lost: “You know when I said it’s useless to be romantic these days? I take it back.” Action interrupts as shoulders rise and arms shoot up, find a particular twist, bend around her head, and stay, stuck. The sequence repeats, builds, disappears and resurfaces through her broken monologue, while plastic-y creaks from her pleather jacket amplify the intense self-awareness of going over and over things said and done.

For a work (and a relationship) filled with pain, there’s a noticeable absence of blame, or even determined search for answers to the question “Why did it end?” It seems that’s not why we’re here, but that’s what I want to know. Not the immediate reason – Stuart offers a strong possibility when she quietly, almost meekly, takes back her pledge to always be faithful – but the reason for that unfaithfulness or whatever it was that led them to give up. Speaking from the past, her recorded voice asks, “What’s wrong with saying forever?” and we know at some point, like most of us, that’s what they hoped for.

Niko Hafkenscheid sings in a spare, simple waltz, “Your dreams, will come true, in a promised land, with me, but I won’t insist, at all.” First they play, staggering and circling their arms until a fall brings his head sweetly to her lap. Sitting up and holding her from behind, he makes her fingers dance and chase and duel. But moments later they insist. She grabs around his neck and thrusts his body, face-down, to the floor. He frantically folds her arms, wraps up her legs, and relocates her lifeless body. I have to think songs like Hafkenscheid’s are partly to blame for filling us with hopes and desires and visions of fake love – love that doesn’t exist and makes us dissatisfied with the love we find.

I read in one review that the work should have ended at 60 minutes. This is when I got tired, too. I had seen all the gestures before and I didn’t want to watch them anymore. But this is the pain, revisiting what’s happened again and again. And moments of revelation – when we understand that a repeated reaching is actually half of an embrace, or a trailing arm is a remnant of hands held – sustain us through the repetition. We examine the wreckage with them, seeing how their bodies have been changed, molded, and disabled by their union with and separation from each other.

Gehmacher enters at the end and speaks for the first time between dramatic organ chords. After all his physical incoherence, he forces a formal stolidity and recites the “moving on” rhetoric we’ve heard from friends and shrinks and talk show hosts in a letter to his lover: "I need to accept the situation . . . I cherish the times we had . . . You gave me a beginning . . . Now I’m ready. . . ." His speech is pretty convincing, but I don’t think he believes it. He takes a lurching step and lifts his hands, fingers dancing and chasing, until they cover his eyes.

Performances of Maybe Forever continue at REDCAT tonight and Saturday at 8:30 pm. For tickets visit General admission is $25, students $20, and CalArts $12.

Other responses to Maybe Forever:

The New York Times

The Columbus Dispatch

The Portland Mercury

Reading the Dance

No comments:

Post a Comment