Meg Stuart/Philipp Gehmacher

January 30, 2008

Meg Stuart/Philipp Gehmacher

Dance Theater Workshop, NYC

January 30–February 2, 2008

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

The prospect of 85 minutes of avant-garde dance—Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher’s MAYBE FOREVER—dwelling on romance and loss did not sound promising. But doubt lifted as Vincent Malstaf’s brooding, evocative soundscape opened the piece with the collaborators reclining and sleepily shifting in an atmosphere as dim as granular smog. Peering into this noxious dusk—the work of lighting designer Jan Maertens—made reading individual moves and contact more an act of imagination than of sight. As a whisper makes a listener lean closer, so did Maertens’ hazy display lure viewers into a crumpled and crumbling love story.

    Genuine rapport between Stuart—an American based in Brussels—and the Austrian Gehmacher held the audience enthralled throughout. Stuart, an engaging performer who resembles a pixie survivor of a hard-knock life, is a spinner of fantastic theatrical worlds. Gehmacher, making his U.S. debut as a choreographer, has a similar, familiar accessibility and a nerdy, boyish poetry to his demeanor. We rarely see them as dancers. They’re just people we might know, their partnering as fresh as if they were living life and making discoveries—and regrettable mistakes—right in front of us.

    It’s lovely to watch Stuart slowly spiral into Gehmacher’s grasp, but pleasure fades. The tugging, caressing partners might be made of Teflon, so often do they slip apart. All their awkward grappling comes to naught. Spoken text and elusive lyrics evoke rueful obsession and the futility of romantic hope.

    Janina Audick enclosed DTW’s space with curtains flanking a large blow-up of a fern and two luminous dandelions. Reminders of impermanence, the shapes of these defiantly-erect fuzz-heads flashed throughout the dancers’ awkward, abstract gestures. Rock guitarist and songwriter Niko Hafkenscheid contributed beguiling melodies played live. His warm voice and modest manner befitted the natural tone of this little drama without drama.

    The work’s luxurious stillness, its overall hush and lack of hurry helped viewers to be attentive to small things, like the fine gold chain that suddenly snapped from Stuart’s neck, an eerily timely accident. And what was the exact shade of Gehmacher’s too-shiny, grey patent leather shoes? I had all the time in the world to figure that out, but I never did, just as these lovers never found their way to forever.

    Stuart’s collaboration with Canadian Benoît Lachambre—the unruly Forgeries, Love and Other Matters—was an unforgettable highlight of DTW’s 2006 season. MAYBE FOREVER—from its pacing to its lilting songs—has a calmer demeanor, perhaps to lull any broken heart in need.