Marriage is one of those long-standing rituals woven deep into society and yet for each person it means something different. It can be a joyful or serious occasion, a spectacle or intimate. It can be a celebration of two people’s love, or it can be political; a formal arrangement, a powerful alliance. It can, at long last, be between people of the same or different genders—at least in some countries.
As universal as it is, marriage remains very personal and each union marks something unique. Sitting down to watch Didy Veldman’s “The Knot,” a dance work centred upon marriage, the pressing question is what path this work might take through such a complex and multifaceted ritual.
Veldman has chosen to build her work, created for her company Umanoove/Didy Veldman, around Stravinsky’s Les noces—a strong and formal accompaniment. It transmits the idea of a more traditional Western ceremony, solemn and church bound. Yet Veldman intersperses music by contemporary composer Ben Foskett and his intervention offers some light relief. It allows Veldman a more playful and eclectic approach to her choreography and, while there are many elements that chime with the more conventional ideals of the wedding ceremony—iridescent veils, confetti, fairy lights and a stage populated by straight-backed chairs—this is not a work that ever feels tied to one particular view or concept of marriage.
As the audience enter they see the performers preparing for the big day. A gestural sequence sees the women preening themselves, while the men prolong the moment they pull on their shirts. We see uncertainty, excitement, staged photos and the bouquet thrown. So far, so recognisable.
Yet between the four men and three women on stage the partnerships are fluid, unbound by gender, and in spite of the formality of Stravinsky’s music, the movement has a flowing, carefree quality, aptly embodied by the dancers. It’s a style that allows this work, as it repeatedly does, to slip between convention and open-mindedness.
It’s these playful contrasts that epitomise “The Knot” and among its perpetual flow of ideas and images a few such moments leap out. A slow motion re-enactment of the throwing of the bouquet is particularly fun to watch and the dancers seem to equally enjoy the opportunity to battle their way to victory. Another sees audience members pulled from their seats and invited to join the wedding party. Suddenly, the stage is populated by extra guests and, while it’s somewhat odd that they are at once audience and spectacle, it’s a distinctive and lighthearted moment in-keeping with the “try anything” approach of this work.
As rich as this piece is in movement vocabulary and visual content, variety is also its sticking point. Too often ideas feel caught and then quickly let go. A brief integration of speech early in the piece is never revisited. Such shifts in tone are intriguing but when left without further development their inclusion feels perplexing—part of a maelstrom of visual impressions which, in the end, become a little overwhelming.
In its movement though, “The Knot” is beautifully constructed and the juxtaposition between playfulness and formality holds the attention, as do the shifting partnerships and the relationships glimpsed between dancers. A duet between Dane Hurst and Sara Harton, tied together at the wrist, marks one such occasion.
In its eclectic portrayal of the preparations, conventions and union of marriage, “The Knot” comes across as an enjoyable and open-minded work, and it is beautifully danced by Veldman’s company.