In 1994 Stuart founded her own company, Damaged Goods, and made Brussels her artistic home. Born in New Orleans and now living in Berlin, Meg Stuart presented her Performance Art/Multi-Media work Hunter at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles. Her set was beautiful and the film and camera work was indeed intriguing. Choreographed and performed by Stuart, Hunter relies heavily on the strength of her collaborators Vincent Malstaf, Sound Design; Barbara Ehnes, Scenography; a brilliant Lighting Design by Jan Maertens and Chris Kondek, Videographer.
Meg Stuart is a very strong performer but this work failed in engaging the audience throughout the 90-minute production because it lacked a central thread of focus. As the audience entered, Stuart sat at a table creating a collage of photographs, large pins, glitter, pine nettles and other materials. A live-feed camera placed above her, projected this process onto textured materials hanging upstage. The photographs appeared to be of family and friends, but there was one of Yoko Ono, whom Stuart later related that she admires. The choreography felt like a collage of Stuart’s movement memories; memories that live in her mind and body, but which are unrelated. She stated onstage, and I am paraphrasing here, that when she is moving, she has a sense that she is channeling the memories of people she has never met.
The set for Hunter is truly stunning. A tall, round plexiglass tube acts as an off-center support for a stylized tent of three or four poles wrapped with electric lights and wiring. Clipped on these, with what resemble oversized clothes pins, are surfaces of different shapes and sizes. There is a crescent shaped wooden structure placed just off the performance area stage left, and these surfaces are used as projection screens. Some of the films are 8MM home movies and others are, again, a collage of edited images. The floor, which covered most of the performance space, is a wooden square with a web-like image carved or drawn into it. The floor’s design alone summoned forth personal philosophical and metaphysical ideas. It is a very intriguing and unique performance surface.
Maertens’ lighting subtly moved throughout the space to create its own collage, aided twice by Stuart carrying large plexiglass squares that reflected a myriad of colors onto the floor, walls and set. Sadly, these elements repeatedly upstaged the performer.
Except for one item, Claudia Hill costumed Stuart in clothes off the rack that made her feel comfortable. The exception was a large quilt-like dress with several arms and a pink pillow attached inside for Stuart to ride like a horse, a pink elephant or an internal struggle. The dress had a multitude of possibilities which Stuart did not explore.
Living in Berlin, Stuart appears to have been influenced by a cultural artistic sensibility. Her movements are very personal and fail to translate into clear visuals. Sometimes gestures echoed what was taking place on film; a small girl dressed in white dancing in place or a young boy showing off in front of the camera. Other times, the movement felt spur-of-the-moment or abstractions on unpleasant memories. At times Hunter feels autobiographical, but then again, not so much.
Meg Stuart is a wonderful mover and she uses gesturing in her own unique way. For someone who said that she did not feel comfortable speaking onstage, the evening suddenly comes into focus when she begins speaking. Stuart tells personal stories of her family, her time in New York trying to move like Trisha Brown and her appreciation of Yoko Ono’s lyrics. Near the end, Stuart sings along with Ono as her song is projected through swirling speakers hanging from the ceiling. As Stuart moves in and around them, the song turns into ear-piercing electronic music with Stuart screaming out in pain and anguish.
Stuart’s narratives reached out into the space and engaged the audience in a way that her choreography was unable to sustain. The title Hunter; did it represent a person’s name, a predator, a seeker, or a collage of many meanings of the word? I, for one, could not grasp onto any one central idea. The collage had far too many ingredients that felt like a stream of consciousness that only Stuart could appreciate and/or decipher. A clear image of the set and lighting remains with me, but the choreography and significance of Hunter has sadly faded away.