Review: ‘Ten Duets on a Theme of Proximity’

The medium of dance, because it operates by articulating motion across space, lends itself particularly well to the exploration of intimacy and nearness in human relationships. In this regard Ten Duets on a Theme of Proximity fared particularly well: it made skilful use of its resources to deliver a short but vivid series of tableaux, each fluidly evoking a particular dynamic. Set in the intimate space of the Burton Taylor Studio, Ten Duets consists of ten pieces, two of which are actually double duets staging four dancers, and the last of which features the entire cast.

Thankfully, Ten Duets doesn’t restrict itself in its scope. As the title indicates, the underlining thread is that of closeness (or the lack thereof), but the mood varies intelligently across duets. While ‘Constant Contact’, the first number, was a strong evocation of joy, number five (‘Following’) played around male companionship, the first part of the ‘Double Duets’ pulsed with eroticism, and six (‘Too Close’) had an anguished feel to it.

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The cast’s execution of these variations on a set theme was particularly deft. The dancing was precise without feeling stilted: refreshingly, movement felt natural throughout. No cast member fell short of the rest, and this even, homogeneous control of the space gave the dance part of its professional flair. The choreography itself was generally inspired: ambitious without falling to exuberance, it retained the economy that is necessary when working on this kind of stage. Besides being technically sound, it also made interesting use of its cast: at the end of most pieces (from the second to the eighth duets), once dancer left while the other stayed on stage for another duet with a new dancer: this continuity was favourable to the evolution of the theme across Ten Duets as a whole. Although until the end of the second duet it seemed that more could be done with the space, the third piece ‘My Shadow’ went in this direction. With a white sheet stretched across the stage, dividing it in two, a lone cast member danced in front of what seemed, at first, her own shadow on the sheet mirroring her every movement. It turned out, however, that the shadow was that of another dancer, cast from the other side of the stage. This kind of process, challenging the expectations of the audience, is particularly fitted to a scene setting itself up as an exploration of self.

In terms of its conception and performance, the dancing was a considerable success. A less inspired aspect of the production, however, was the use of music. In ‘Almost Requited’, the piano expanded on a predictably melancholy, but ultimately merely pretty melody. Conversely, ‘Too Close’ and the first part of ‘Double Duets’ made such heavy (and loud) use of bass-intense electronic music that the effect of the dancing lost some of its immediacy and vigour as a result. Music and dance should merge cohesively — they are part of the same whole. In Ten Duets, music tended to be treated as either mere accompaniment or as an effect to draw an emotional response from the audience, which I occasionally found to be more disruptive than productive. This is particularly worth mentioning as the choreography was so engaging, and its execution so crisp. Ten Duets on a Theme of Proximity remains an achievement in technical and imaginative terms: watching the show, it is evident that skill and daring have gone into it, and this is the kind of performance that we should see more of on the student stage.

Pierre Antoine Zahnd

‘Ten Duets on a Theme of Proximity’ runs at the Burton Taylor Studio until Saturday 5th December. Tickets can be purchased here.

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