Review: The Knot at The Place
90% of all off-duty dancers wear Doc Martens. How do I know this, I hear you ask? Well, dear readers, a few weeks ago I spent my Tuesday night surrounded by a group of young dancers, complete with ballet buns, extremely lean limbs and…big ol’ Doc Marten boots.
Why was I surrounded by dancers, I hear you ask? (Got a lot of bloody questions, don’t cha?) Well, I was at premiere contemporary dance school, The Place, to watch The Knot, the latest work by Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman. The dancers were, I presume, there to learn (almost literally) at the feet of this dance stalwart.
With a dance career spanning 14 years, followed by 18 years working as a choreographer, Veldman has worked with some of the best and brightest dancers around, and she formed her company, Umanoove, with a selection of them in 2016. This, her second piece, is billed as an “examination of the social and personal significance of marriage in contemporary Western society.” I know, doesn’t give much away, does it?
Essentially, The Knot takes a look at ritual, relationships, and all things wedding-related through the medium of contemporary dance. It begins with four men and three women, slowly dressing themselves. So far, so understandable. The problem is that kicking off the show with such clearly recognisable movements can set expectations that the audience will understand what is going on all the way through. Not the case.
There were many scenes where the action was clear – the overly-emotional best-man’s speech, the truly fun bouquet-catching sequence, the stag do – but many more of the set pieces read to me as lovely pieces of movement that had nothing at all to do with anything.
Of course, the real argument here is that these moments are left for the audience to interpret. For example, in one touching scene, three dancers talk about the qualities they look for in a partner (“kind”, “passionate”, “good lips”, “supports my work”) – while two other dancers slowly piled more and more chairs on the final member of the troupe. I took this to symbolise (perhaps) the weight of expectations we heap on our potential partners. My plus-one didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on, she was just stressed about the poor guy collapsing under a bunch of chairs.
Then there was – everyone’s favourite – the audience participation. This, naturally, struck fear into the hearts of my plus-one and I… though it turned out not to be so bad. During one scene, the dancers came into the audience, took pairs of us by the hand and sat us on chairs in a semi-circle, while they performed in the middle. Perhaps a little unnecessary, I’m not sure it added much to the piece, but it was wonderful to be able to witness the talent of these extraordinary dancers up close.
And here’s the thing – if you’re not used to it, and you don’t possess the language to interpret it, contemporary dance is honestly just a bit weird, BUT, there are few people who would not have admired the extraordinary talent of these dancers. I am eternally gobsmacked at how people have the ability to be so extremely strong and yet elegant and powerful and delicate and light on their feet, all at the same time.
The dance itself is genuinely lovely – leaving all interpretation out of it, this was such a pleasant experience aesthetically. The set and lighting were brilliant – sparse, but very cleverly put together, with the bare minimum of well-chosen props. And there were moments when there was more than just pleasant movement to watch, moments of real poignancy and sweetness. These are the moments which mark The Knot out as special – so If you are looking for a gentle and moving evening out, or you simply want to try something a little different, you can find out more about upcoming performances by Umanoove here.