BY LOU PARDI
If you could get two ex-lovers in a room with a singer songwriter and the lovers happened to be world class contemporary dancers, they could take you through the journey of their relationship and loss. If you could, it would look something like Maybe Forever.
The first performance in Australia by Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher, this is also Maybe Forever’s Australian premiere, but the piece is three years old. Since premiering in Brussels in 2007, Meg and Philipp have toured the piece throughout Europe and America. When I speak with them they are about to perform the piece for the first time in Hanoi.
All over the world the piece attracts different reactions. “I have no idea what to expect from a Vietnamese audience tonight nor do I now what to expect from an Australian audience,” says Philipp. “I think it really depends what they expect, what kind of theatricality they’re used to or not, what the current fashion of contemporary experiences is and of course different cultures different regions.
“In some countries it’s not considered what you thought it would be it’s not too abstract or theatrical. It’s hard work now days to not censor yourself and push all the mirroring images of yourself: what you can do what you can’t do, what it is good, what is bad. Love and loss can be the most clichéd thing you can do in life so you have to find a process to approach the subject originally and intelligently.”
It seems Philipp and Meg have found that approach – as the piece has been received extremely well. But for Philipp, it’s not just the outcome which is a highlight for him. “I think for me, it’s as much the piece as it is also the process of collaboration and all the things that make the project the whole and the whole experience for me. As much as I understand that the audience gets the piece to watch and I understand that it’s important to make that as good as possible.”
The music of Niko Hafkenscheid and of course the collaboration with Meg are parts of the process which Philipp enjoys. And the feeling is mutual. Meg first saw Philipp dance at a workshop. “I was very impressed with his dancing and his approach to dance and movement and then we kept in touch, he was living in London and he was developing his own work and then I saw one of his performances, Incubator and I had this very strong feeling that I wanted to be inside this work – that I wanted to dance this work and be close to it and I felt very connected with it,” she says.
“We decided to work in a studio for a week in Vienna, just in dialogue just to see what that might mean and it was really nice and informative and quite exciting. We decided to make a project together and we made Maybe Forever. We’ve actually now just made a second piece called The Fault Lines, so it’s been a very fruitful dialogue,” says Meg.
Maybe Forever has grown over the years, “It’s become more whole, more one,” says Meg. We’ve changed. I think your life changes – and you have different approaches and aspects and you’re shifting so the piece adapts somehow. I think it’s gotten stronger for sure.”
Niko Hafkenscheid has also been with the piece since the beginning. “We always knew we wanted to work with a singer songwriter,” says Meg. “We wanted to work with this particular tone and type of music and see how it would influence us. We were looking and we didn’t find one and we almost decided that we’d work with a song book and then we met Niko – so he started working and he even wrote Maybe Forever while we were making the work. He’s been a really wonderful collaborator.”
Niko’s role in the performance shifts from being very obvious to fading into the background. “The space itself can shift its meaning so it can look like a private space, or a memory space, or a concert hall – it has these strange curtains. He’s like an extra element but it’s not completely fixed what his role is,” says Meg.
While on the surface, the piece is about love and loss, Philipp says it is more than that, “I would say that from my side the themes of love and loss are just one part of the piece. I think that the way us as two artists and people, the way we approach each other, is as much of a theme. I think it’s also about two people meeting and trying to understand what being next to each other could mean and sharing the space together.”
Meg agrees, “I don’t know if it’s really singularly about love. I would also say it’s about two artists meeting and about relating and projections,” she says. But it certainly does explore the themes of love also. “Often we’re not present because we’re projecting on or working with expectations – what we want might happen or what should be happening but it’s not, or we’re living in a memory space. I think love is the kind of connection through all things, but I think we have problems with completely being open and available for someone else.”
MALTHOUSE THEATRE & THE GOETHE INSTITUTE PRESENT
JUNE 23 – JUNE 26
This article first appeared in Beat magazine