May Art smell like this? | Liat Fassberg

Violet |Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods
Mousonturm, Frankfurt a.M, 22.4.2015

Energy. Without words, without narrative, without symbolic images or staged scenes. Merely performers following the energy of their own body to discover how the body, within itself, leads energy. Energy, and especially kinetic energy (the energy an object possesses due to its movement) will be the key word throughout this evening, resonating not only among the dancing bodies, carried out through the space on waves of loud electronic mixes of sounds, beats and music, but also bouncing off the white floor to be absorbed by the rough, uneven, beaten, black wall erected behind the dancers at the depth of the stage. The light flicks on, revealing five standing performers (Varinia Canto Vila, Marcio Kerber Canabarro, Kotomi Nishiwaki, Renan Martins de Oliveira, and Roger Sala Reyner) who slowly and individually begin to research their physical reaction to the energy of the music made by the on-stage musician Brendan Dougherty.

It begins with the movement of a hand, an arm, gradually taking over their entire body, bringing them to take over the entire stage (and space). Though the sum range of their movements may not be considered great or virtuosic choreography, composed mainly of shaking and swinging of sorts, if one is willing to go with them down their rabbit hole, one soon finds himself watching bits and hints of Shamanic ceremonies, Sufi swirling, ethnical or Tribal initiation rituals and even Metal-rock Pogo dancing, all in accordance to the beat and base of the music. 40 minutes into the performance, coming up from a very long scene in which they lay curled on the floor, shaking and gasping for air, as though painfully dying, the five performers stand front stage facing the audience, and the energy seeps from the stage and crawls about the audience tribune. It is then that the smell of their perspiration violently fills the space. Though we saw it happening, we saw their shirts becoming damp, their hair sticking to their bodies, it is as they stand looking at the audience, catching their breath that the question comes to mind- can Art be so repugnant?

It seems such a question of the definition and borders of art fits well with the goals and wishes of the artistic team of the Mousonturm in Frankfurt, as they choose to bring to the house contemporary, avant-garde, at time controversial pieces of different Media, while initiating artistic talks to bring the audience and the art into discussion. Meg Stuart’s 2011 work Violet, fits into this bracket perfectly, as she searches and researches (as is described on her website) „the body as a vulnerable physical entity that can be deconstructed, distorted or displaced but still resonates and has meaning“. From the beginning of her work in the early 80’s in New York, to her contemporary pieces made by her company Damaged Goods in Berlin and Brussels, Stuart is less interested in virtuoso chorography but rather seeks to „reveal the hidden world of her dancers as they question themselves on stage“. This, together with her determination to collaborate not only with different artist, but with different art forms, may be what makes her and her company a leading entity in contemporary dance and performance scene, supported by and invited to many of Europe’s well-known, state-supported performance houses and theaters. The research of the body in Violet is clear, but as this research turns performative, it raises questions about Art and the thin line between „high“ and „low art“.

This question lands us in the midst of Nietzsche’s known dichotomy between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. The Dionysian referring to more wild, primordial, satiric, abstract and disordered forms found (usually) in music, while the Apollonian demonstrated (in Greek tragedy) the differentiated, „clean“ forms of dialogue and poetry. Nietzsche argues that, as  the human nature is constantly formed of both Dionysian and Apollonian forces, interchangeably interwoven, arising and prospering from each other, the arts as well should be constructed of the two, thus enabling balance and harmony. This idea of the balance of the opposite elements, such as light and dark, is also a key notion in the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. Stuart’s performers fill the stage with what would seem to be Dionysian dance elements. As their stench reaches the audience, any thought of clean, elegant forms of „Art“ furthers away and drowns in sweat. Yet the mind, knowingly viewing a dance-performance piece in the Künstlerhaus, battles to settle the contradiction. One might trace this contradiction already to the work’s title. The color violet stands at the end of the color spectrum. Historically it used to be associated with royalty and majesty, today though most people associate it with extravagance and individualism, the unconventional, the artificial, and ambiguity[1]. In Chinese painting it represents harmony of the universe, bringing together blue and red.

The second part of Violet, leads into a more liquidized state, as the performers cling to each other, rolling around the stage, while the seven colors of the spectrum\rainbow wash the stage, we’re reminded again of the Yin Yang „visual depiction of the intertwined duality of all things in nature“, or perhaps, of a drug induced trip turning into a free-love orgy. By the end of the piece, as the beat rises, and the performers let themselves into a vibrant Trans of release, the music sounds like those machines in the film Matrix, digging up the world from inside, threatening to bring on the End of the world as we know it. Energy is everywhere.


[1] Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques. p. 4.