Meg Stuart “Blessed”, belatedly

I apologize for the lateness of this write-up, I have been horribly remiss in posting.  Lots of work and a week-long sojourn to Montreal have put me way behind schedule!

But I have been thinking about BLESSED, created by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and EIRA that debuted at NYLA for quite some time. We’re always fortunate when Meg Stuart comes to town, and in this case, given the recent discussions about visual art performance and performing arts, it seemed especially timely and fortunate.

BLESSED is one of those pieces that is so exceptionally well-wrought and expertly executed that you kind of end up gasping in amazement. A single performer/dancer, Francisco Camacho, is on the stage in a crisp white outfit and shower shoes, amidst a landscape comprised of a small house, a palm tree and a swan, all meticulously fashioned out of cardboard. Designed by Doris Dziersk,  they are beautiful art objects unto themselves. Camacho moves in tight, contained bursts, moving robotically around the space. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it starts to rain and the palm tree starts to crumble, eventually falling to the ground. The swan, too, crumbles and sags and the house (more like a bus shelter really) starts to fall in from the middle of the roof.

I talked to Carla Peterson on the bus to Montclair for the Bill T. Jones show and she told me that the cardboard was scored (cut) to fall in particular ways and that all the pieces were fashioned in Europe and shipped over, in parts, to be assembled anew for each performance. Even the flow of water in the rainfall is carefully calibrated and timed to create the exact effect desired.

Camacho makes his way back to the crumbling hut and spray paints graffiti on the walls that reads  “You are a beast”, “You don’t feel” and “Why do you sob?”, only to have the structure fall down more. He changes clothes from the white outfit into jeans, a scarf, flower hat, shoes and a fake beard, wearing a camouflage t-shirt that reads “Exercito de Jesus” or “Army of Jesus”. The rain subsides, briefly, as the score, by Hahn Rowe, moves to more tranquil and whimsical sounds, like chimes or birdsong. But this is only a brief reprieve as the rain returns and demolishes all that remains of the hut, the swan and the tree. Finally, Camacho tears it all down and assembles heaps of cardboard, fashioning them into makeshift blankets and inadequate shelter. He ends up twitching on the ground in a scene of drizzle and twilight, he rises again as rain subsides and puts some kind of stretching thing in his mouth to create a disturbing rictus of a smile and starts to makes weird singsong noises. Just then the lights go up super-bright and Katomi Nishiwaki, dressed like a Vegas showgirl, enters the stage and preens like a Phoenix. The music sounded like B.B. King, but I’m not sure. But she rocks it, incongruously, in an iridescent jump suit and platform white patent leather boots. She preens, he crawls.

After she exits, Camacho moves downstages center and strikes an iconic Jesus Christ pose, where Abraham Hurtado steps out of the audience and dresses Camacho in a variety of outfits that I interpreted as “Raver Christ”, “Sports Fan Christ”, “Fashion Christ” and “Beach Bum Christ” until finally settling on a pair of white underwear with a see-through raincoat.

Camacho wanders around some more, desolate in a wasted landscape, elliptically revisiting the movement vocabulary from the opening moments until the the rain begins yet again and the scene fades to black.

One of the things that really struck me about BLESSED was that it kept arriving at places from which it seemed there was no way forward, and somehow found a way to keep going, evolving, changing, surprising. “We can’t go on, we must go on.”

And here’s where I go back to the whole “art” argument. While Camacho is definitely a trained dancer, and Stuart a choreographer, what unfolded on the stage was something other than pure “dance”. It truly was time-based art. The sculptural elements of the set, the visual composition of the lighting and the atmospheric shifts of the score worked together with the embodied presence of the performer(s) to create a seamless, integrated, living work of art. It would be hard, I think, to judge the work purely on the merits of the movement – it was about creating a durational experience where  the compositional elements brought together onstage served as a locus for ideas, where we as an audience were not dictated to, but invited in, a conversation around ecology, around disaster, faith, and the human condition.

BLESSED was really quite moving and incredibly well-done. I look forward to Meg Stuart’s next NYC engagement.


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