Umanoove / Didy Veldman
London, The Place
20 November 2018
Interview with Didy Veldman about The Knot
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman has picked a rich subject to mine in The Knot: marriage in all its starry-eyed, nerve-wracking, life-altering glory. The new production, performed by seven dancers, zeroes in on the significance of matrimony in contemporary society. There’s a big focus on the wedding industrial complex, with its grand gestures and Instagram-influenced accoutrement, and consideration given to the broader idea of wedlock – who it’s for, why it persists, and how easy it is to let romanticised ideas of love supplant love itself.
The hour-long work is a colourful, fragmented affair, blending muscular contemporary dance with lively physical theatre. Stravinsky’s magisterial Les Noces is laced with snippets of new music from Ben Foskett to provide a tense, textured soundtrack, while Joana Dias’s set design includes banquet chairs and fairy lights for the dancers to manipulate and rearrange. Across the production, the imagery winds its way through details big and small: receiving lines and confetti-strewn dance floors, nervous proposals and dashed expectations.
The opening scene depicts the heady ritual of getting dressed for the big day, the cast solemnly buttoning their shirts and zipping up their dresses. The visage of these dancers swaying in their skivvies is a racy one, though the starched tenor of the proceedings feels humourless as it wears on; it’s a relief when they begin discussing their ideal traits in a partner (intelligence, confidence, “looks good in tight jeans”) and some levity breaks through.
From here, the work loosens up considerably, though a certain friction persists in Veldman’s roving brand of storytelling and her twitchy, splintered choreography. The language of the show darts between narrative and abstract, and the transitions between the two can be clunky and overlong. But if this back-and-forth is coarse, it’s also home to some captivating moments of theatre. A slow-motion bouquet toss becomes a hilarious fight to the death, while a tussle with a white shroud shows the allure and the archaism of the wedding veil tradition. The most charismatic scene is also the riskiest: the dancers co-opting a dozen audience members as guests for their party. The chosen ones are twirled, dipped, and ushered into a conga line; one’s even brandished with a surprise kiss on the lips. You could imagine this falling flat with a reluctant crowd, though with our game one it became a highlight of the show.
The cast is home to some heavy hitters, including Dane Hurst, formerly of Rambert, whose aplomb shines through in every dive and extension. An arching, plunging solo of his is not only the best technical phrase of the night but also one of the most emotionally moving. Sara Harton is likewise stirring, slipping between extreme emotions with ease and commitment. The two bring a startling intensity to a convoluted duet in which they’re tied together at the wrist, elevating their pretzel of limbs into an expressive display of pressure and uncertainty.
Like the tone of the show, the dancing takes a little time to find its feet, particularly in the slower, more self-important scenes, where the performers give the impression of dancing alongside rather than with each other, focusing on individual rhythms at the expense of the broader group dynamic. But in the fuller-bodied sequences – of which there are many more – we’re treated to robust groupwork, the cast revelling in a powerful movement vocabulary that sees limbs shoot from and retreat to the core. They yoke particularly well to off-balance run-arounds that send them swinging off their axes, and to frolics that skirt the line between horseplay and hostility, like a hulking male quartet played out against the bellowing choral strains of Les Noces.
The production shines brightest at these moments when it dances on the edge of positive and negative, stable and unhinged, beautifully navigating these intersections of emotion and form.