Celestial Sorrow by Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
December 11, 2019

Veronica Posth

Every piece by Brussels and Berlin-based American choreographer and dancer Meg Stuart and her company Damaged Goods is very particular. For Celestial Sorrow, the Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto creates a warm and welcoming stage. As we enter, under hundreds of warm light bulbs, Jule Fliert, Gaëtan Rusquet and Claire Vivianne Sobottke, eyes closed, turn around while producing noises akin to mumbling with some sighs in between. At the side of the stage are two musicians.

The performers slowly open their eyes and pick up three spectators, taking them to other seats. They proceed differently. Personalities, of the performers and chosen ones, of whom little is asked, shine clearly.

Meg Stuart's Celestial SorrowPhoto Laura Van Severen
Meg Stuart’s Celestial Sorrow
Photo Laura Van Severen

The threesome develop a range of dance that ends up in energetic bounces, little jumps, bumps into each other and falls. A vibrant world of light and movement, it’s playful, lively and energetic, like watching three children as they push boundaries and cross limits. It is funny too, watching the three stimulate and inspire each other, try to outdo each other as if in a race, although actually all they seek is pleasure and fun.

Celestial Sorrow has beautiful images and a very sharp wit. The dance seems casual yet is always accurate and well executed. Among the many very humorous and well-structured scenes, a girl makes jokes about the non-empathy of Germans, latecomer men and Berlin’s dark side, while also sharing pathetic but funny stories about herself. There are constant references to sorrow and nostalgia, regret and disappointment. Does sorrow become celestial as the title suggests? And is it or can it become a way of living and being? There are amusing and engaging oddities too.

The music shifts between soft electronic and strident electric guitar, loud bass and metal. Some people leave during the loud peaks, finding the accompaniment uneasy to digest. It certainly sounds cruel and violent.

Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s costumes are an integral and important part of the show. Some are casual yet colourful, others bizarre. A beautiful and bewitching effect is created by a gold drape in which two performers roll in on the floor, the material becoming a dress in itself.

Some moments initially appear non-sensical but, on reflection and with a deeper look, are actually quite the opposite and deeply meaningful. A ‘celestial sorrow’ does indeed reign over the work. One feels great empathy with and close to the performers as they describe images linked to their past and their relatives as they take us on their exploratory journey.

The end is simply brilliant. After all the loud noise, a performer emerges with a mantle full of colourful Christmas lights, pushing a trolley, singing a soft song. All the performers, musicians included, join in, parading around the stage, singing the unfamiliar song. Finally, see Rusquet on multi-shaped and very peculiar wooden block high heels. Moving carefully and gracefully, he softly wipes the hanging lights with a feather duster as if drying or wiping away the tears of the metaphorical eyes that have just witnessed celestial sorrow.