Until Our Hearts Stop
A belief in magic, or the loss of all illusion? An underground ceremony in a search for intimacy and new forms of contact.
They dream of community. They probe each other with eyes and hands, they cling to each other, striving for black magic. In a night club – or is it a cellar? – they take part in an underground ceremony that promises to lead them to a mystical fusion of the initiated and the curious. To the sound of throbbing basses, piano and drums, Until Our Hearts Stop by Meg Stuart sheds light on the impossible encounters that define the human condition.
In a décor that borrows the lustrous purple and black velvet of magic shows, dancers and musicians invent strange rituals. They make modesty and shame disappear, awaken sources of love and hospitality, seek warmth and tenderness in isolation from the outside world. Whether an empathic healing circle or a mystical, utopian get-together, their bizarre games reveal an irrepressible need for intimacy, as well as the discomfort, awkwardness and violence that need to be exorcized. A belief in magic, or the loss of all illusion?
Produced by Damaged Goods + Münchner Kammerspiele
Choreographed by Meg Stuart
Created with and performed by Neil Callaghan + Jared Gradinger + Leyla Postalcioglu + Maria F. Scaroni + Claire Vivianne Sobottke + Kristof Van Boven
Dramaturgy Jeroen Versteele
Original Music Paul Lemp + Marc Lohr + Stefan Rusconi performed by Samuel Halscheidt + Marc Lohr + Stefan Rusconi
Set Design Doris Dziersk
Costume Design Nadine Grellinger
Lighting Design Jurgen Kolb + Gilles Roosen
Sound Design Richard König
Choreography Assistant Francisco Camacho
Scenography Assistant Giulia Paolucci
Costume Design Assistant Davy van Gerven
Artistic Assistant Igor Dobricic
Technical Director (creation) Oliver Houttekiet
Technical Director (tour) Jitske Vandenbussche
Sound Design Richard König
Production Manager Sabrina Schmidt
Produced by Damaged Goods + Münchner Kammerspiele
Co-produced by PACT Zollverein (Essen) + Ruhrtriennale – Festival der Künste (Bochum)
With the support of Government of Flanders + Flemish Community Commission
Acknowledgement to Klara Luhmen + Peter Pleyer + Dasniya Sommer + Tami Tamaki + Aurore Werniers + Uferstudios (Berlin)
The performance is dedicated to Paul Lemp, friend and musician of Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods.
Presented with the support of Goethe-Institut Montréal + German Federal Foreign Office in association with Usine C
Written by Mylène Joly
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich, on July 18, 2015
Meg Stuart (Brussels + Berlin) Damaged Goods & Münchner Kammerspiele
The American choreographer and dancer Meg Stuart studied dance in New York, and is currently living and working in Berlin and Brussels.
Her early work, notably No Longer Readymade (1993) established her reputation on the European scene, and her focus on the vulnerability of the body and the individual. That exploration of fragility, that frailty at the human core, inspired the name of her company, Damaged Goods, founded in 1994 in Brussels. Together they have worked on over thirty dance pieces, some of which were presented in Montreal to enthusiastic audiences: Maybe Forever (FTA, 2008), Built to Last (FTA, 2014) and more recently the solo Hunter (Usine C, 2016).
Meg Stuart has instigated several interdisciplinary projects that combine video, improvisation, installations and in situ performance. Each piece is a pretext for multiple collaborations, a rejuvenation of the vocabulary of dance, often navigating the tension between dance and theatre.
Her exceptional qualities as a choreographer, dancer and teacher have led to numerous distinctions, including a Bessie Award for her 2004 piece Forgeries, Love and Other Matters, created in collaboration with Benoît Lachambre and Hahn Rowe. She also received the 2014 Grand prix de la danse de Montréal for her outstanding contribution to the advancement of dance, and most recently La Biennale di Venezia awarded her with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2018.
What the dancers encounter onstage is manifestly a collective, physical, sensual, carnal, muscular and tactile experience. Can a spectator sitting in the theatre relive or even absorb the intimacy of that experience?
My first challenge when creating this piece was to determine how to convey intimacy onstage, in a space much bigger and open than a dance studio. The dancers and I came up with a way of being that goes beyond representation. The dancers simply live in the moment. They plunge deep into the experience: they really feel each other, touch each other, explore things together. What you see is direct and true, devoid of bells or whistles, for it is as much a creative process as it is performance, albeit choreographed. It is raw and blunt, yet also fragile and vulnerable.
We also explore the possibilities of speech, which at a specific point becomes very important. While the spectators may struggle to grasp the intimate nature of the tale in the more physical moments that focus on touch, they can readily understand through language. By using words we are able to open the doors to their imagination, to their own intimacy. By playing with sensory and experiential dimensions, and also with language, we are able to reach the spectator.
Magic is an important aspect of this piece, something quite unusual in contemporary dance. How did the use of magic come about during the creative process? What traces has it left in this work?
I became interested in the story of Cornelius Gurlitt, an art collector who had inherited some 1500 paintings from his father, a German art dealer. Much of the inheritance consisted of works by Picasso, Chagall, Courbet and other great artists of the day, paintings that had been confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s and ‘40s. I was fascinated and touched by the strange love that Gurlitt had for his paintings. I imagined him, having made all these works officially disappear, as a sort of magician. That was the impetus for my interest in magic acts, in illusions.
We invited magicians to the dance studio to conduct all sorts of explorations. One was a mentalist or mind reader who hypnotized us. I liked how sensuality, touch and the flesh become embodied in the presence of magic, which is ephemeral and refers to absence. In addition to that creative approach, it was also clear to us that theatre itself is an illusion, that dance and improvisation are forms of trance. The show plays with those different aspects, with that magic very close to enchantment that a child can feel at the theatre, and also another, darker magic. I am still asking myself why we need magic. What is it that we’re really wishing for?
This show has been touring since 2015. During that time, have you become aware of something you had not initially noticed?
I now comprehend a particular duet from a whole new perspective. Without revealing some of the surprises in the piece, I now see that moment in the show as a comment on women and their body issues. By taking a position in that scene, women are also taking power over their own identities, their bodies, how others view them. Their way of being is so free, joyful and wild. That spirit is very present in that duet, but it also reverberates throughout the entire piece.
I would add that working on physical contact has always interested me. The creative avenues that open me up to intimacy or to questions about the quality of touch are infinite. Moreover, I also explored the magic of theatre, of light, of experience. Although it might initially seem a strange association, it all forms a solid whole, but one that raises many different reactions depending on the audience.
“It transgresses the boundaries of what the theatre can offer in a time of contorted distress; of the generosity we as artists can offer… a felt sense of grounding to ourselves and to those around us, which can last even after our hearts stop.”
Stefan Jovanović, Belyflopmag.com, 2015-12-04
“Masterfully shaped and structured.”
Paul Hughes, Exeunt Magazine, 2017-11-15
“Until Our Hearts Stop is an expression of intimacy but not, because of the graphic exaggeration of the means employed, a call for intimacy; closeness does not strip down to its emotional components and reach under skin.”
Iris and Rosie, Writingaboutdance.com, 2017-11-27