The American choreographer is coming back to Zurich. At the Theaterspektakel she not only sends dancers to Lake Zurich, but also the audience.
There was a time, long ago, when we could envy the dancers for their glittering tutus. Today we envy her for her wetsuit. It keeps your limbs warm against the swaying waves, while when we visit the rehearsal work, exposed to the moody winds, we swing along in this dance with the waves.
«The spectators experience the movements of the water on their own bodies and move with the waves, to a certain extent empathetically. You are in an unsafe place.” That is the idea of the American star choreographer Meg Stuart for her latest piece «Waterworks». She developed it with the young Zurich company The Field on Lake Zurich around the Saffa Island and will premiere it as the prelude to the theater spectacle in 2022.
Protection against the wet
The audience is indeed moving on uncertain ground. It is pointed to floating pontoons in front of the island. Computers, mobile phones, everything that mustn’t get wet goes in a box. You are advised to take warm clothing with you. The program newspaper of the theater spectacle also recommends waterproof clothing and non-slip shoes. However, the clear, cool evening with a moderate breeze turns out to be rather harmless. Only the dancers get wet. However, the anchorages of the pontoons sometimes groan so loudly that they drown out the sound of the music designer Mieko Suzuki.
The audience now looks from the water to the land, where seven creatures – neither fish nor bird, something between human and animal – try to tell their stories. They speak with mute, increasingly pale lips, but constantly moved.
In a conversation before the rehearsal, Meg Stuart talked about fairy tales and fantasies that flowed into the play from the performers’ distant childhood and dissolved here in the water into a series of “dream-like realities”, as she calls it. But Meg Stuart speaks to the spirit of the women who drew attention to their share of economic and social work here on Saffa Island in 1958 at the Swiss Exhibition for Women’s Work (Saffa). “What if this island is surrounded by the tears of women?” In any case, “Waterworks” is also a play about sadness and tears.
The «Waterworks» project began with a commission from the company The Field, which was founded in 2019 at the Tanzhaus Zürich. Meg Stuart, not known for choreographing for other companies, accepted. The prospect of being able to work in Zurich again was too tempting. From 2000 to 2004 she was Artist in Residence with her Belgian company Damaged Goods at the Zurich Schauspielhaus, which was then directed by Christoph Marthaler.
She moved actors, involved them with the dancers in her pieces and got the craziest thing out of them. And she brought a breath of fresh air to the local dance scene, gave workshops at the Tanzhaus Zurich and at the same time proved that avant-garde can definitely thrive in the institution.
Meg Stuart’s plays thrive on the weird types who populate them: angry characters, trembling, drooling, screaming, inside out. This called for extraordinary performers. And Meg Stuart has always known how to attract strong personalities. When she moved on from Zurich to the Volksbühne Berlin, some of her colleagues stayed behind, for example Simone Aughterlony, who has been convincing here with impressive performances for many years.
However, Meg Stuart largely designed «Waterworks» with young actors who had never worked with her before. “The members of The Field are very open and can improvise,” says the choreographer, adding: “Our aesthetics and our standards are not far apart, that was important to me.”
The work began in the studio, but it quickly lured the artists outside and to the lake. Here, in the knee-deep water, movements felt very different. Meg Stuart has always been interested in edges, in borders that she doubts and in transitions like here between water and land, nature and civilization.
loss and change
Where the waves slap the shore, the dancers crawl over the stones like lizards. Where the water gets deeper, they send out strange signals with their arms. The choreographer believes these are movements that could come from the unconscious. The water makes you lose control. «Whoever climbs a mountain will feel strong and resilient. Diving into the water, on the other hand, means letting go. It’s about loss, it’s about change, and it’s about how we can adapt in a changing world.”
In times when we fear for water, when rivers and lakes are getting smaller and smaller, the choreographer is not interested in the lack of water but in the loss of control. She couldn’t get the images of the floods in Germany last year out of her head, she says. “We’re moving in shallow water here, but the water can also develop a very destructive force here.” What if the waves of Lake Zurich lashed Saffa Island instead of gently licking the shore? Danger lurks in the shallows. They might erupt to the surface like the dark emotions in Meg Stuart’s earlier plays.
Zurich, Landiwiese, August 18 to 21 and August 23 to 26. In the event of bad weather, the performance will be canceled or postponed.