Sweat Baby Sweat builds aching intimacy
SWEAT BABY SWEAT
By Jan Martens. A Push International Performing Arts Festival and Dance Centre presentation. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Wednesday, January 18. No remaining performances
The title Sweat Baby Sweat might 2
lead you to believe that Belgian maverick Jan Martens’s new dance duet is an hour of intense, body-slamming, perspiration-soaked coupling. You would be entirely wrong. Instead, the work is achingly intimate, a slow, serious exploration of human beings connecting, weaving their limbs into increasingly impossible, pretzel-like contortions. Their eyes remain locked on each other; in one extended sequence of movement, their lips do too.
This is not to say the dancers don’t sweat; they definitely do as they achieve poses that often defy physics. The opening finds Kimmy Ligtvoet with her feet planted on Steven Michel’s thighs, her arms clamped around his neck, jutting her hind end away from him—hanging on even as her centre of gravity threatens to pull her off him. In another extended moment, set to the slowly pulsing electronic score, they roll like some intricately woven human ball across the entire length of the stage. What amazes throughout is the very smoothness of their movement, despite its physical demands. The metaphor here is that love is a dance of careful balancing and counterbalancing.
The show’s hypnotic power—albeit one you must be ready to submit yourself to—is in its quiet communing. Dating back to La La La Human Steps, contemporary dance has been making a name for itself with frenzied feats of extreme virtuosity. As it says in the program notes here, Martens is not interested in this kind of spectacle at all, just “the beauty of the incomplete human being”.
He’s focusing here on the way we attach ourselves to one another (in this case, quite literally, as if Krazy Glue were involved).
And although it doesn’t play out quite perfectly—at one point Michel madly tries to push the clinging Ligtvoet off him, only to have her straddle him ever more tightly—martens reveals a real affection for love. It’s essential to life. Sometimes we can’t, and shouldn’t, let go.
Like the looping, seemingly endless Cat Power song that serves as a coda here, the piece wanders, whimsically and curiously with no consequence in particular. But the dancers are so magnetic, so committed in their commitment, that you can’t help but be moved; someone I know was sitting by a person who sobbed throughout.
We’ll all bring our own baggage to this relationship. Sweat Baby Sweat holds a raw power, the subtle kind that comes from skin moving against skin, a hand gently sweeping a woman’s long hair back, and eyes gazing into each other—but somehow without any ornamentation of romance.
STREETS AND SHADOWS
Vancouver street-scene photographer Fred Herzog takes the spotlight, and throws artful shadows, in a new exhibit at Whistler’s Audain Art Museum through May 22. The show, called Shadowlands, chooses 18 of his photos from over his career, all of them playing with light and dark. At the same time, they’re a chance to transport yourself back in time, to a colourful, diverse city before highrises and skyrocketing real-estate prices. (See from 1958 Chinatown here, courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery collection and part of the show.)
Black Man Pender