TANZPLATTFORM 2022 >>> In “CASCADE” by Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, running 24-26 February at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, a collective dream of time becomes reality — or was real all along? The show is one of the selected performances of Tanzplattform Deutschland 2022 and will appear again 19 & 20 March at the Volksbühne.
Surreal, the lines of people picking up tickets and having their 2G+ statuses checked and swallowing the last of their pre-show beer, leaving empties by the bike racks. Surreal in number, energy, density. A scene from years ago or years from now, but somehow I’m in the middle of it, today.
The group of seven performers “is a gang of dreamers,” Meg Stuart said in an interview about “CASCADE” in September 2020 after its cancelled premiere-to-have-been and before its delayed premiere-to-be. Remembering the performance, summoning its images back up to write with them, feels to me like social dreaming. In April 2020, just over a month after lockdown began in New York City, I participated in my first social dreaming matrix. Social dreaming is the name Gordon Lawrence gave in the 1980s to what he thought of as a kind of social technology he had discovered. During a matrix, each participant in turn speaks images from their dreams, and associations to these images, aloud. A matrix always starts with the question “What is the first dream?” From there, a constellation of the group’s fantasies slowly forms that makes the parallel subconscious visible.
The world I am seeing looks like rock and moves like water. Gestures ripple through it with an internal logic that seems to both obey and defy the direction of cause and effect. The air around me has a mass that I can sense, and movements happening far away from me seem to stir my body.
The performers reach one of the many high points of physicality they will produce together over the course of the evening and an associative image bubbles up in my mind: In a storefront window of a vast toy store, wind-up and battery-powered playthings go through their motions. Bobble-heads jiggle. Little perpetual motion machines pendulate. Symmetries arise just to break down again a moment later. Time signatures match up for a breath only, or for just a few. Some motions grind to a halt while others forge on steadily. You couldn’t write an equation for the agitation of the whole system.
A deep and comforting voice is welcoming me back. I’m not sure where I’ve been. It could have been a commercial break or quarantine, a long journey or a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep. Or a momentary lapse in attention, a daydream. Wherever it is, the voice says it’s been too long.
It’s performer Davis Freeman speaking the words “Welcome back. Welcome back. It’s been long,” about a third of the way through the (until then, wordless) evening, and I become aware of the packed seats around me and the relativity of the idea of ‘full.’ There are many more people here than there were at the last sold-out show I saw at HAU2, just last month. No taped-off seats or staggered tickets. What is this surge of nostalgia I am feeling? Is it a fondness for the packed houses of the past, or is it a future nostalgia, a longing flavoured by the knowledge that you often don’t get what you desire?
The performers are in a line that begins to look like a curtain call, but the performance has not ended, nobody applauds. Some of the performers grow more and more disgusted, or disappointed, or sad. They walk off. They clean up. They start anew. They keep going.
A social dreaming matrix treats dreams as manifestations of collective unconsciousnesses that exist in parallel to the social structures lived in waking life. “CASCADE” is utterly interpenetrated by the pandemic, but not in the same way that ‘pandemic theatre’ seeks out tools and formats to make virtual, hybrid, and distanced events. Stuart and her company Damaged Goods began work on the piece in early 2020 as a collective research into time and falling, and Stuart said they were working with rupture when the lockdowns began. You could look at this as a strange coincidence. Or you could look at it as a natural product of a collective unconscious that was already busy dreaming of what was coming.
A team of divers searching for Atlantis cross paths with astronauts on an interplanetary mission.
Some things I have learned about dreams, and of which “CASCADE” reminded me:
Past is future and future is past.
People who have passed on are ready to speak to the present; our ancestors accompany us.
We are always already inside what’s next. We are already sensing it.
My dreams are not mine.
We dream our realities into being.
Over and over, a person trips and falls. Over and over, I watch. Every time it happens just a little differently, but also, somehow, exactly the same. Every time it’s completely predictable and completely inevitable.