Most of us spend a lot of time waiting—for something good to arrive, for something bad. For change of some kind. As in Sartre’s No Exit and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the characters in Forgeries, Love and Other Matters, a dance theater work choreographed and performed by Meg Stuart and Benoît Lachambre, are marooned in a barren landscape. But, as it turns out, for these two and their relationship, there’s hope.
Stuart is one of a lucky group of choreographers who decamped for Europe and found support there. Since 2002, her Brussels-based company, Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods, has had a relationship with Berlin’s Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. She, Montreal choreographer Lachambre, and New York composer Hahn Rowe have collaborated before.
Rowe is an important piece in this brilliantly disturbing theatrical puzzle. He sits stage right, surrounded by electronic equipment, including a guitar, a supine violin, a funky portable turntable, and other stuff. Springing nimbly around his equipment, muttering to himself and the other two, zoning out on the floor, he’s onlooker, participant, and controlling force. Sometimes his imaginative, often witty score responds to the performers’ inner states; sometimes it creates climate changes that influence their decisions.
Stuart’s style has always featured small gestures and shifts of expression along with ungainly movements that encompass both beauty and pain. When Forgeries begins, she and Lachambre are sitting on small, low stools in a irregularly hilly landscape that slopes up to a ridge at the back and a metallic “sky.” The surface of this remarkable creation by Doris Dziersk looks like brown earth but turns out to be fake fur. The shabby clothing by Tina Kloempken sends mixed messages: Stuart wears a cotton print dress, a pale blue windbreaker, and high-heeled brown suede boots. Lachambre is garbed for running, except that he has a violently patterned sweater under his jacket. As they stare around them, Stuart gradually begins to cry. Lachambre touches her hand, wipes her tears. She cries some more. Time passes. “It doesn’t look like the picture,” she says, gazing around, as if they were tourists on a dead planet that—like their life—they hadn’t expected to be quite so dead. (At this point Rowe leaps up and gets a phonograph, as if this were a movie musical he had to perk up—although he doesn’t). The couple’s behavior becomes stranger. Stuart drinks from a tube of what looks like lotion and spits it out. Lachambre furiously licks the drops that got on his fingers and moves on to obsessive scratching. She lets her legs sprawl open, but this is no conscious come-on. Stuart’s boots stick to the ground and in pulling away, she stumbles into a hidden pit, but clambers out and starts staggering around, her knees and ankles wobbling. Rowe’s foggy voice and percussion rhythms give her actions the status of a dance. The terrain is dangerous, but these two are beyond alarm.
They can’t make anything work the way it should. When Lachambre collapses (they both collapse a lot, and lie there spread-eagled), Stuart grabs a first-aid kit from Rowe. Even after desperately reading the booklet, she thinks a mylar sheet is something you ball up into a pillow, and that jumping three feet in the air and landing with her palms on her partner’s chest will rouse him. Finally, she connects to him via a rope cinched to heavy belts—an apt visualization of this relationship. He pulls her, twisting and somersaulting, up the slope; she holds him on a short leash while he strains away. They run back and forth across the ridge for a long time.
And now something extraordinary happens. She gets loose, but he keeps running, gradually taking off all his clothes, letting down his long hair. Loping along the ridge, he’s suddenly a beautiful animal. And a wild one—lashing his hair, growling, treating the fur floor like prey, and finally howling. Stuart, who’s been watching him through binoculars, clambers up and they slide down together. He huddles against her; she rocks him. Then she leaves.
In the second part, the two—very aware of us—create a sort of photo-op version of their relationship. She’s traded the windbreaker for a pink sweater, the boots for pink shoes, and is wearing a blonde wig. She’s brought Lachambre clean clothes. “Glad you called,” she says, “it wasn’t easy to find.” She’s gets a small video monitor from Rowe (it shows nature unfolding in closeup). The level of absurdity in what seems to be a first date cranks a few notches higher as she spreads open a sleeping bag, adjusts her dress, and falls backward; he leans over her. Dissatisfied, they re-run this seduction many times. She dances for him, self-consciously sexy. Drinking from a plastic container, she spills most of the liquid, cups it from the floor, and washes herself; he sucks it up feverishly.
Close to the end of this 90-minute work, he falls through a hole in the top of the hill. When next we see him, it’s through a large window that Rowe has revealed by rolling back a piece of the carpet. We hear Lachambre say, “I’m cold; it’s dark in here,” but when harsh lights (by Marc Dewit) come on, we can see he’s in a sterile lab; by the time Stuart arrives, having stuffed a stash of plastic bags under her clothes and pulled some over her head, he’s ready in a lab coat to itemize each article she removes.
A message begins to seep into the pair’s hobbled behavior. He lays down the laws in a strong, impersonal voice. This is a world in which almost everything humans need, love, fear, or hate is forbidden. They itemize these antiphonally: “Nobody is getting lost in this place,” “There is no laughter in this place.” She’s a little more hesitant at first, more ready to qualify. And, of course, here is no love. Finally, they say, “There is no reason to stay in this place,” and they leave.