The Dance Centre's Executive Director Mirna Zagar reflects on Flemish choreographer Jan Martens and Sweat Baby Sweat, presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival January 18-20:
One of the highlights of our Global Dance Connections contemporary dance series last season was undoubtedly The Dog Days Are Over, Jan Martens’ clever and audacious examination of the act of jumping which had his dancers do just that, nonstop, for over an hour. It was an extraordinary experience: as we the audience watched this impressive feat of athleticism, skill and concentration, a special bond developed as we cheered them along. A kind of pact emerged as the dancers strived to endure and the audience willed them to succeed. So I am thrilled to have the opportunity to bring Jan back with something else from his treasure chest, and we are presenting Sweat Baby Sweat with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The Dance Centre has collaborated with the Festival since its very first iteration, and this continuing relationship helps us to challenge some of the boundaries of what dance is today.
Still only in his early thirties, Jan has quickly risen to stardom in international contemporary dance. His creative as well as touring dynamic is impressive: 13 productions for his own company and others in the past five years, and an extremely busy touring schedule counting dozens of venues across the world.
Jan has the talent and appetite for hard work that a successful dance artist requires today. Yet in person he is unassuming – quiet, thoughtful, slight in build - and while he is always very focused on what he does, he is also very approachable. This might be part of his success as his intent is to remain close to his audiences. He is a master of observation. This, and his motto ‘perfection is dull’, all comes into play as he creates works where, down to the last drop of sweat, all is carefully constructed and has a point to make. There is nothing left to chance, even if it does not seem to be the case, or rather the degree of risk is high, and the margins for error very slim. And it is important for him for the audience to be engaged: he will provoke, bring food for thought, but he will want the audience to have fun. This is the thin line between art and entertainment, the modern day gladiator on the arena called the stage, the spectator a voyeur. In these past years of “austerity” we have seen cutbacks in the public sector’s investments into the arts, and artists feel they need to prove they are important. They must entertain so society can have its fun. To what extremes must they go?
Jan’s work is marked by a strong physicality; minimalism, or call it simplicity; and refined emotions that arise apparently out of nothing, peaking in an almost euphoric state in which he brings the audience into the fold with what is happening on the stage. His work is his very own: it is also very political, almost a manifesto, and still it is deeply human, despite being abstract, conceptual. Jan is not looking to invent a new movement language, he takes existing idioms and places them in different settings, so new ideas and experiences emerge.
Sweat Baby Sweat (Jan’s works always have arresting titles!) has a rather clichéd theme at the source: a relationship between a man and a woman (indeed it could be any two people). This most performed of his works is about all-consuming love. Two people who can’t or won’t let one another go. One would expect a very theatrical approach to such an epic theme. However, in the best of Jan’s traditions, he uses subtlety, accompanied by mellow music, to offer us a window into the passing of a lifetime before our very eyes. Sweat Baby Sweat is a composition of physical and emotional evolution, a storytelling, though remaining in the domain of the abstract; video, projected text, and composed music become tools in supporting and moving the composition along. Sweat Baby Sweat thus becomes a multiplied, multilayered composition of contradictions about love. It is minimal in aesthetic as much as it is baroque in the emotion; highly physical, and intense.
For this performance, inspiration is found in the concentration and intensity of circus acrobatics. Indeed, the work connects acrobatic strength, with the power to grasp the audience’s attention, intertwined with the slow dance of mental fragility. This is a simple, intimate hour full of rich emotions.
The Dance Centre presents Sweat Baby Sweat as part of the Global Dance Connections series and in partnership with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival January 18-20, 2017 at Scotiabank Dance Centre.
Photos: Klaartje Lambrechts