Jan Martens’ Sweat Baby Sweat is a minimalist, slow, and stretchy take on love relationships in dance form. At the beginning, the duo (Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel) become entangled, as in a yoga pose. The movement is minimal. They become one body turning on itself. It reminded me of Plato’s Symposium where Aristophanes describes androgynous humans with four legs, four arms, and one head made of two faces, which were then split by Zeus in two. Thus, when one finds one’s soulmate one feels whole.
Sweat Baby Sweat is a little less wholesome. The couple splits and then begins again with the same initial movement of the first section. Martens says that he wanted the audience to think that they were going to see the same movements again and then be relieved from the change. The change is a long and protracted kiss, which I found uncomfortable. I am rarely comfortable with displays of intimacy on stage or on screen. Yet, the kiss being slow and continuous becomes just an extension of the movement. It is not sexy or tender.
The continuous movement trails the ups and downs of relationships, the closeness and distance. At one point, the woman clings desperately while the man pushes her away. Not something the women to whom I have spoken appreciated. It could have been reversed or repeated with the man clinging, or could have featured two dancers of the same sex, so to avoid the stereotype of clinging women and independent men. The male dancer then seeks the female dancer, but instead of leading to tenderness and intimacy, it leads to lustful copulation. I raised my eyebrows.
Sweat Baby Sweat is problematic and yet engrossing. It holds the attention of the public for over an hour. It brings the audience close to the couple rather than performing to them. It is an intense performance. During the post-show talk, a member of the audience described it as ‘electric focus’. Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel show an impressive physicality, which explains the longevity of the piece, now in its eighth year running. Sweat Baby Sweat does not play to the public; it draws the public in. It is compelling, but a new direction is needed.
(First published on Groundwork Pro: https://groundworkpro.com/sweat-baby-sweat-jan-martens/)