Last weekend, the Walker Art Center gave Twin Cities audiences an introduction to American-born, Berlin- and Brussels-based choreographer and dancer Meg Stuart. Presenting “An Evening of Solos and Duets,” it began with the fabulous improvisation-based “Atari” and ended with “Until Our Heart Stops,” featuring two nude performers pushing against the male gaze — not always successfully.
Stuart’s two-week visit concludes with the North American premiere of “Celestial Sorrow,” created by Stuart and Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto. It opened Thursday night in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.
As audiences enter the stage for an intimate seating area, they’re greeted by Kuswidananto’s eerie installation of light bulbs hanging from a grated structure. The lights hang over three dancers, who slowly turn in circles with their eyes closed.
The beginning of their performance suggests a funeral rite. Incorporating stillness with soft vocal guttural sounds, the performers evoke an ominous presence as the lights dim above them. This rite eventually progresses in intensity and incorporates a bit of audience participation, with a crescendo of vocalizations. One performer, Jule Flierl, channels an otherworldly being and sings — or rather shouts — imperceptible incantations. She’s then enveloped in a glittery gold blanket by performer Claire Vivianne Sobottke.
Two musicians — Mieko Suzuki and captivating guitarist Ikbal Simamora Lubys — are seen on opposite sides of the stage. The two perform a sound design by Richard König that’s hauntingly prickly, with an expansive vocabulary of sounds — from the use of a startling gong to a heavy metal sequence.
The lighting design by Jan Maertens acts as an additional performer, undulating in luminosity throughout the piece. There’s a brightly lit section where the movers dance with the improvisational vibrancy seen in Stuart’s first weekend of performances. Dancer Gaëten Rusquet’s bendy wiriness is especially fun to watch.
The piece meanders during a section where the performers describe memories — memories that are invented, it comes increasingly clear. The dancers then assume varying characters, the most fun being Flierl with her glittery bodysuit and mask, plus giant ears.
Sobottke wears oversized floral prints and teeters back and forth as she makes a ghostly low sound with her voice. She describes watching the “Carnavales” growing up, devolving into a histrionic fit of self-pity and rage and lashing out at the audience. The character seems to be play-acting her pain, and it’s unclear what Stuart is trying to say about her performative grief.
The unexpected flashes are the most fun, like when Sobottke pushes a Christmas light-decorated truck, singing karaoke as she makes a lap around the stage. Eventually she is joined by the musicians and dancers in song.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.