PuSh 2017: Sweat Baby Sweat shows the tension and balance of a modern relationship

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Sweat Baby Sweat | Jan Martens | PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and The Dance Centre | January 26, 2017

After what seems like an eternity of slow motion contortion and sexual tension, two dancers, wearing only their undergarments, finally kiss. The kiss goes on for what feels like forever as they continue to slowly climb on each other, lift each other, and lay each other down with extreme muscular endurance and strength. 

The impressive feats of Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel evolved over the course of Jan Martens’ Sweat Baby Sweat as they used their weight to balance each other and slowly shift their positions.


The bare stage, stark lighting, and silence only amplified the minimalist movement and allowed us to spend our time analyzing the possible meaning of their movements and scrutinizing their athletic bodies. When the duo finally kisses and releases some of the built up tension, we also feel some relief from the monotony of their slow motion and we realize that this is, in fact, a story of love.

Written on the back wall, the words “As long as you are here, I am too” served to frame their movements as a representation of their permanent bond or everlasting love. But this could also be read as a forced bond; one that someone isn’t willing to let go. Seen from this perspective, every slow movement builds suspense and ratchets the tension back up. 

Known for his exploitation of love clichés in his former work, A Small Guide on How to Treat Your Lifetime Companion, Martens has tried to present a love story in an original way, what may be the ultimate choreographic challenge. He explained during a post-show talkback that he was inspired by acrobatics, gymnastics, yoga, and butoh to create a new movement language. The result is certainly interesting, but there is only so much slow motion balancing that one can see without the mind drifting to a daydream or a looming to-do list. When their slow motion sequence began to repeat, I was worried it may go on forever. Luckily the kiss broke the pattern.

Despite some trouble with repetition, Martens has created a few truly beautiful moments between these two dancers: they pull each up to a standing position and slowly begin to rock back and forth from one foot to the other as if at a high school dance, lying on the floor he holds one leg up and she balances horizontally on his foot, he slowly moves a lock of her hair behind her ear. In these moments, you can sense the strong connection between them and the complicated love story they are trying to convey. After 100 performances, they have definitely grown to understand each other’s signals and their connection is authentic throughout this intimate choreography.

Throughout the whole slow motion sequence, their eye contact never wavered. After their kiss of eternity, there was a change of pace as Ligtvoet climbed on Michel, trying to kiss him still. He pushed her off repeatedly, and they went through this many times before becoming exhausted — just as a couple can exhaust themselves after an intense fight.

They calmed down, and a slow Cat Power love song, “Willie Deadwilder,” began to play as they shrugged their shoulders to the beat, moving into a seated position together and eventually lying flat on the stage as the lights grew gradually dimmer.

Relationships can be fraught with tension or full of tenderness, but often we’re struggling to find the balance. Sweat Baby Sweat represents this tension and struggle well, but with some trimming of repetitive segments could send a much stronger message.   


Our attention was shifted to the back wall again as the song lyrics appeared karaoke style for us to read along. Lyrics from well-known pop songs followed to give insight into the many representations of love: “You’re still the one,” “You rock my world,” “You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals.” We were left to ponder the complex dynamics of love as the dancers faded away into the darkness, their still-pulsing bodies slowly moving towards the back wall.

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