Deborah Colker Dance Company: Knot @ Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Deborah Colker’s latest production aims to use her company’s penchant for bold staging and stunning athleticism to break open the art’s most nibbled nut; the nature of sexual desire.

Knot is intended to be a portrait of lust, its players stripped bare of human circumstances and identities, and placed in a Petri-dish full of ropes or, in the second half, a giant clear-plastic box modelled on an Amsterdam prostitute’s shop window.

Colker has taken her task almost too seriously (to the extent of bringing in a philosophy professor to influence her choreography), however this is a hard nut to crack, and in this respect Colker’s strangely clinical production simply doesn’t deliver.

Given such a tall mandate, though, it all starts quite promisingly. The curtain rises on a giant tree made up of 120 ropes, which then break apart and spend the next thirty minutes tangled around various combinations of dancers and each other – and the athleticism on display is stunning.

The loud and energetic score is full of thumping breakbeats, Samba rhythms and Vaudeville interspersed with moments of classical tranquillity, as the dancers tie each other up in all manner of intricate and expertly choreographed combinations.

As the first act develops, the ropes become less important, the knots become writhing tangles of highly toned human flesh.

It should be sexy as hell. However most of these human knots, these bodies curling in and out of each others’ entanglements, are utterly dwarfed by the large canvas of the stage. The four dancers tangled in a ball together may, individually, have been moving from dominance to submission, or resistance to surrender, but the audience see only a knot of limbs as the dancers are just too far away.

Maybe, on an intimate studio stage, this would feel like a powerful, dangerous and intoxicating treatise on the nature of desire. As it is, what we have is a stunningly executed production on the aesthetics of, well, knots.

The second half does away with the rope and replaces it with the aforementioned red-framed plastic box. This adds focus to the tableau on stage, better framing some of the gravity-defying acrobatics, however the problems remain. Despite all its impressive moments, Knot is a clinical and aimless affair, with little sense of form, structure or narrative.

This is an unavoidable concern, even for the purest aesthete, when portraying desire. Even without the added languages of bondage, domination and voyeurism spoken here, desire should denote a sense of danger; the fear of surrendering to an instinct you might not be able to control, or the thrill of inhibitions abandoned. Unfortunately, though Knot is technically competent, it just isn’t all that thrilling.

The most effective dramatic note is at the end of the second act, when a male and female dancer simply sit and share an embrace within the plastic box – it’s a rare moment that actually embodies genuine human intimacy.

That’s the key problem here: as a purely aesthetic composition, Knot almost works – but as an essay on desire it is just too devoid of human passion to arouse the senses.

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