There’s not a more quintessential dance format than the duet, and this past weekend at Yaw Theater, five artists presented five different takes on the classic.
The show, curated by Lauren Linder, began with a duet by Melinda Jean Myers, featuring Sean Thomas Boyt and Linder herself. 40 Years Ago, 30 Years From Now tells its story through exercises in coordination. Boyt and Linder begin jogging side-to-side in unison, subtly traversing the space, shifting in time together. Their unison action highlights their tiny differences—one is slightly bouncier, the other is ever-so-slightly behind. Much of the work reflects both dancers committing to a task and patiently negotiating compromise. At one point the two devise a dance phrase together, sometimes open to suggestion, other times specifically advocating for a detail they care about. In another section they lie on the floor and play the game where on the count of three they try to say the same word. Each trial and error gets closer, and after a few minutes they succeed in saying the same word at the same time, and are relieved and joyous in their success. Sometimes there is strife—like when Linder refuses to move her foot midway through a unison walking phrase—but through a persistent return to collaboration they find a rhythm both can agree on.
Cameo Lethem’s Janus is a shift in mood and aesthetics. Chloe Albin and Alicia Pugh begin back to back in futuristic gray-scale costumes, rotating around a center axis in a definitive reference to the titular two-faced Roman god, Janus. Their movements are all about creating shape, long carving limbs and spines, that then shift in unpredictable ways. Lethem shows an acute skill for creating and releasing tension, and in duet form this manifests as the rhythm between the two dancers, who are obviously coordinated even if they seem unable to acknowledge one another. This manipulation of energies keeps the abstract material captivating and mysterious; even without a clear narrative, Janus stands on its compositional elements alone.
Some say it takes two to tango, but Alyza DelPan-Monley questions that basic assumption with her duet interpretation For Me, From Me (a duet of self). DelPan-Monley appears solo on stage, but interacts with her own disembodied voice coming over the speakers—and the two are not on the same page. The voice spends much of the piece trying to reach the body through the form of voicemails, but the body is reticent to cooperate, instead preferring to futz with the nest of objects surrounding her. Sometimes she goes along—attempting a list of “Things to put you in a good mood,” but voice is too demanding, reading faster than body possibly can act. The two eventually do work toward common ground, but the journey shows the trials of learning to love and live with oneself.
Ella Mahler presents her dance film it can also be this, featuring Anna Krupp and Jenna Eady, with cinematography and editing by Liz Houlton. The film cuts quickly between Krupp and Eady dancing in an industrial hallway, sitting in waiting room chairs, and hovering over each other’s shoulders. The direction is disorienting and creates tension that comes off as vaguely threatening, especially in the dancer’s body language, but their placid faces say otherwise. Full of rhythmic play in both dancing and editing, the environment of the film is inexplicable, existing somewhere outside our normal world.
Loop: Author’s Definitive Edition returns to a similar task-based format as the first piece, as a score by Boyt is interpreted and directed by Linder and the two dancers, Sumaya Mulla-Carrillo and Ayako Shapiro. A playful experiment in collaborative making, the work didn’t carry much weight, but featured two lovely movers and some fun theatrical moments (the whole audience made a story together with each person contributing the next word), which was a pleasant collaborative finish to an evening that celebrates that collaborative dance form—the duet!