Sometimes we see beautifully crafted works, the results of months of rehearsal and chemistry building, and we feel in awe watching it. Other times, we watch two people dancing, composing movement in the moment, off the proscenium stage with chemistry built over more than a decade of friendship, and we know the result is nothing short of magical.
Duet on a Piece of String, performed by Bebe Miller and Darrell Jones on August 5, exemplifies the latter to a tee. The work was presented as part of Velocity Dance Center’s Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation (SFDI) and the Seattle Art Fair. Given the backdrop, Seattle’s historic Union Station, Duet had hinted at a stranger’s first encounter but it was clear they weren’t strangers to one another. The project has been described as an investigation of the performance of improvisation, mining nearly two decades worth of collaboration and friendship between Jones and Miller throughout the performance. They picked up where they left off last winter in Chicago at a similar performance.
Miller and Jones started intimately and slowly incorporated their surroundings: a chair, benches, and glass doors. The tactile connection between the two continued as blues-rock music by Justin Mitchell played; sometimes they held hands or cheekily squeezed the other’s nose—signs of affection and care emerged. Dynamic movement textures like shaking and sharp gestures came in and out of their vocabulary.
SFDI has been known for inviting renowned movement improvisers from around the country and the globe, and the result always pays off. When put in a performance setting, skilled improvisers can display nothing less than pure, unadulterated, soulful dance. Miller and Jones, both of whom were SFDI faculty this year, were no exceptions. Their years of friendship showed—a knowing look or smile between them became something profound. They constantly echoed movements off one another and added new ideas and layers. A movement may have started as a swing. Then a swing and a shake. Then a shake and a zooming run across the station before chasing each other like two carefree children at a playground.
Though “string” is featured on the title of the duet, the string itself doesn’t come in until halfway through the dance, when Miller picked up a ball of white string. Jones bit half of the ball and Miller unfurled it, simultaneously keeping tension in the string between them while wrapping it around Jones. It’s as though the string became a physical manifestation of the history and connection between the pair, which up to this point had not been physically visible yet so apparent. As bells rang from the speakers and echoed throughout the building, Jones and Miller swirled the string around, letting it take them to different spaces across the station. Even as they moved the tension always remained taut (an allegory of their relationship, perhaps?)
The duet ended with the image of Miller and Jones, still attached to the string, walking out the glass doors and away from each other. Perhaps at some time to come, in a different city and space, they will rejoin each other again and pick up this exploration. One thing’s for sure: Wherever they are, especially in this increasingly volatile world, they will share that an act of kindness and a show of friendship is sometimes just enough.
In addition to Duet, Velocity and Seattle Art Fair also co-presented luciana achugar’s The Pleasure Project that same day at Occidental Square and Flora Wiegmann’s Halo of Consciousness at Union Station from August 5 to 7. Velocity’s SFDI ran July 31 to August 7 (more information on its website), and the Seattle Art Fair was held August 4 to 7.