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Review 1: DDF2015 opens on Abbey Main Stage with ‘Built to Last’

Tue 19 May 2015

Review 1: DDF2015 opens on Abbey Main Stage with ‘Built to Last’

Why construct monuments? Why ban music? Why frame a photo? Why honor traditions? One answer might be: the need to shape and define memory, whether individual or collective.

DDF2015 opened with a long, rolling ululation on the Abbey main stage last night with Built to Last, a 2012 piece by American choreographer Meg Stuart (mounted with her Brussells-based company Damaged Goods and Münchner Kammerspiele). A piece replete in every aspect, from the five mature and sophisticated performers, diverse in their styles and sensibilities (Dragan Bulut, Davis Freeman, Anja Müller, Maria F. Scaroni, Kristof Van Boven) to the detailed and ambitious set (Doris Dziersk) to the epic and wide-ranging musical score (Alain Franco), it was a heady opening to the DDF programme.

Stuart has spoken of monuments and the passing of time as themes in 'Built to Last', and they can be seen as a solid bedrock underpinning costume, set, musical score and movement choices. The cast intermittently don tribal masks and other headgear shaped like totemic icons - a rearing reindeer, at one point - while a gigantic wooden model of a T. rex skeleton towers over them. An open-faced house that roams the stage on wheels gestures towards civilization next to their often primal cavorting, while above the whole a startling planetary system rotates, implying order in the stars.

The movement itself alternates between order and disorder, with the performers contorting and capering wildly, then engaging in tight, unison sections heavy on pattern and repetition. It looks like humanity trying to put a shape on chaos, constructing narratives to retrospectively make sense of events. The dinosaur skeleton is disassembled and reassembled higgledy-piggledy by the cast, coming to rest as a warped, four legged creature hulking in their midst, a distorted monument.

Stuart has a keen eye for a honed image and the piece is punctuated by moments of stillness where scenes are assembled in real time and presented to the audience, some seeming to poke fun at the pomp and arrogance implicit in trying to create a lasting monument of any kind.

But over everything, the booming, soaring, defiantly recognisable works of classical music titans like Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninov and Arnold Schönberg affirm the possibility of monumentality, even while the actions of the cast seem to repudiate it.

It's the classic human condition on stage: cynicism about the possibility of any kind of immortality and, in a whisper below that, a resolute hope for it.