How can two bodies come together – under what conditions, in what constellation? And what comes between them, mediating their contact: objects, stories, identities, commands? ‘Both, Two’ examines the duet, the smallest unit of togetherness. In this piece, a pair of bodies is dancing in and out of visual, aural and tactile frames. Each time, the duo takes on and sheds a dynamic, an energy, a hierarchy, a name – a meaning. What extraordinary collision of components must we perceive before we can construct the familiar – or the new? As touch, form, momentum, and support circulate in complex currents, it becomes difficult to say who – or what – is leading.
The dance duet is a genre with a history. In their most familiar forms, duets reflect the range of possibilities for relating which resonate within a certain cultural imaginary. In particular, they reveal common-sense attitudes towards who gets to move, how, and under what conditions. When two people dance together, a whole constellation of invitations, permissions and prohibitions is put on display.
In ballet, for example, men lift and manipulate women, showing them off as passive objects (although we know, of course, that the ballerina’s lived experience is anything but passive). Or, men dance together in a battle for dominance through demonstrations of superior reach and dynamism. Rarely do we see two women dancing together on the ballet stage. Such gendered tendencies are holdovers from a time when men controlled the public sphere, when women’s appearances in public needed male legitimation and were staged for the male gaze. It’s an attitude which we would like to imagine to be retrograde, but which sadly remains all-too-present, both in dance and our social life-worlds.
‘Both, Two’ poses the question: how can we do duets differently? This is a dance that proposes a not-yet-common-sense understanding of togetherness. Here, power positions are not fixed in advance, nor is the dance a struggle for power; rather, agency circulates in surprising ways. Often, the origin of a particular movement or form is undecidable – who is leading and who is following? ‘Passive’ and ‘active’ begin to lose their concrete flavor as touching and being-touched are revealed as inseparable. What if this more nuanced way of understanding relations between people became part of our cultural vocabulary?
Any relation between two people is also shaped by a whole slew of non-human things: material objects, which support, weigh down, obstruct, enhance, repulse, and transmit impulses. The world of humans is also a world of objects, and these too have their say in the way human movements come to pass. In ‘Both, Two,’ material, in all its textures and qualities – but also immaterial objects like stories, images, and scores, and ‘less-material’ objects, like wind, light, and sound – intervene and take up their own roles in the dance. They call upon certain forms, certain speeds, certain energies; ‘Both, Two’ stages the duet in situ, within the context of a world populated and mediated by a diverse array of things.
‘Both, Two’ invites the spectator to jump into this complex more-than-human ecology with her whole body: the work asks us not just to see but to sense. Can we hear a duet? What does it feel like? Costumes with palpable textures, swirling currents of air and sound, and a tactile program note complement the movements of tangibly enfleshed bodies; a journey for the proximal senses that intersects with the visual and the aural in unusual ways.
The duet, then – the smallest unit of togetherness – is staged as something which overflows itself. If we imagine the duet as the meeting of two concrete, self-contained bodies, ‘Both, Two’ provides evidence to the contrary: we are never just two, never just among humans, never immune to the call of the other nor untouched by what we reach out to touch. It’s essential that we get in the habit of thinking relations in their real ambiguity and complexity – even supposedly ‘familiar’ relations, like those sustained between two people – if we are to begin to navigate our densely interconnected world with sensitivity and care.
Text by Sebastian Kann. Seb is a circus artist and dramaturg working mostly with notions of relationality, agency, and encounter. This is his second collaboration with Vera and Esse, having also participated in the making of ‘Mazing’.
Both, Two was created between Vera Tussing, Esse Vanderbruggen and their team. Esse has collaborated on several of Vera Tussing’s previous creations, most recently Mazing which premiered in late 2016. She participated in the research for The Palm of Your Hand and toured as part of T-Dance.
‘Both, Two’ marks a return to the duet form in Vera’s work, after several years of working on larger group creations. It marks a new start, but it also continues and deepens her exploration of certain recurrent themes. Like several past works, ‘Mazing’ investigates the way we sense dance, movement and theatre – challenging norms of spectatorship and seeking a mode of experience beyond the visual. It also repeats and elaborates upon the question: ‘how do we meet the other?’, which has long been central to Vera’s practice.
This exploration has been greatly enriched by Vera’s ongoing collaboration with several inclusive-dance projects and initiatives, participating in the Symposium for Inclusive Dance at the conservatoire in Antwerp and working closely with INFINITY and guests at TOPAZ. She is also involved with the HUMANE BODY PROJECT, a partnership between several European theatres which aims at inviting blind and partially-sighted audiences into the theatre (CND Paris, The Place London, ImpulsTanz Vienna, Kaaitheater Brussels).
Michael Picknett created the sound track for the creation he works with tactility and presence in sound design – often using sounds on the edge of perception, or creating moving sound through multi-speaker set-ups. Sofie Durnez contributed to costumes in two previous works, specificity in textures and shapes is one of her main focusses in this creation. Both of them have been vital collaborators in previous creations. Bert van Dijk worked on the re-creation process for The Palm of Your Hand II and is now an integral part of the team.
performance & creation Vera Tussing, Esse Vanderbruggen | direction Vera Tussing | dramaturgy Seb Kann | feedback Saïd Gharbi | design / costumes Sofie Durnez | sound Michael Picknett | lights Bert van Dijk photography / video / design / copy writing Alessandra Rocchetti, Zoilly Molnar, JS Rafaeli /Photography Joeri Thiry | production Hiros | co-production Kaaitheater, KAAP, The Place, IN / FINITY | research / residencies support South East Dance, The Place, CND Paris, Tanzhaus Zuerich, ImpulsTanz , BUDA, STUK, KAAP, De Markten, Cc ‘t Vondel, De Warande, Stems Gallery |Cindy Daignault I Tactile Programme Note: Anna Goette,Miriam Hempel/Daretoknow, Esse & Vera | Additional support and Thank you to: Esther Severi, Zoltan Vakulya, Chen Wei Lee, Gorka Gurrutxaga, Laura Poletti, Magrit Duchateau, TOPAZ, Susan Carter-Schwantes.