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Jan Martens channels the hard work of new love in ‘Sweat Baby Sweat’

Thursday 05th, January 2017 / 11:27
By Yasmine Shemesh

Photo: Klaartje Lambrechts

VANCOUVER — Most of Jan Martens’ pieces of dance are derived from an autobiographical place. For Sweat Baby Sweat, his love duet, the Belgian choreographer first looked to a personal relationship where he felt afraid of what would happen if he were to be alone. To portray this struggle, the movement between the two dancers, Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel, is minimal — slowed down in order to maximize both effort and intention.

“In contemporary dance, normally when you lift somebody, you would use speed, you would use momentum,” Martens explains. “And in Sweat Baby Sweat, we slowed everything down so it’s become more intense, but also more physically hard to do. It was, for me, a good translation of this sometimes hard work that love can be.”

Indeed, in moments like, for example, where Ligtvoet is balancing her entire body weight on Michel’s foot, the dancers must work together in order to not slip or collapse. It’s tricky, Martens maintains, especially when they begin to sweat, but it keeps them fully present and emotionally aware — and also adds an unpredictable theatrical element. “Sometimes you see things almost go wrong,” he says, “but I think it’s the strength of the piece, rather than a weakness.”

Music also plays an important role in Sweat Baby Sweat. The piece is danced to an 18-minute Cat Power song called “Wille Deadwilder,” a track Martens chose specifically because he enjoyed its repetitive melody and its surreal-like associations about relationships. Song lyrics are also projected on the back wall during the length of the performance, aiming to speak to the nostalgic connections we often have with love songs — the first song, for example, you slow danced to or the song was playing during your first kiss. The lyrics are derived from a wide range of artists, from Joni Mitchell to the Bloodhound Gang — the latter’s “The Bad Touch” for which the piece is named. A humourous, yet apt, namesake.

“I liked ‘sweat baby sweat’ because it gives content,” Martins says, referring to the opening line of the track. “‘Baby’ is about love and ‘sweat’ is about the physical output which is there.”

Sweat Baby Sweat runs at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from January 18 – 20 as part of PuSh Festival.  

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