As is the case with most works of contemporary art, it doesn’t really matter how many footholds you – the maker – provide for the audience, in the end the final interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. Still, I doubt that the narrative thread that I ‘uncovered’ in the dance duet Want is the Wick, which premiered at the Musica Sacra Festival in Maastricht, was exactly what its maker, Stephen Shropshire, had in mind.
Its starting point, so the leaflet tells us, was the main theme of this year’s festival: ‘prayer’, and the faith that comes with it. Shropshire wanted to reflect on the ‘paradoxical challenges of remaining sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. Want is the Wick has also been inspired by the Greek tale of Psyche, a beautiful princess who for many years shared her bed with a god (Eros) she was never allowed to see (Spoiler alert: in the end she did sneak a peek, with dire consequences. It’s a Greek myth, after all).
Yet, despite knowing all this, and despite seeing the piece performed in a place of actual worship, the Cellebroederskapel, I kept seeing a story about domestic abuse.
Don’t get me wrong. As a duet, Want is the Wick is mesmerizing, especially the brittle and haunting performance by dancer Lea Giamattei. And the blindfolded Giammatei could certainly be seen as a modern Psyche, her blindfold representing the blind faith that is required while dancing with Jeroen Van Acker.
Then again…from the very beginning of this duet, the balance of power is off. She is blindfolded; he is not. Whenever she strays too far, he reins her back in. Sure, you could say he is helping her, guiding her, maybe even protecting her. You could also say he is controlling her, holding her back, making sure she is exactly where he wants her to be.
While his face always wears a benevolent expression, it often belies his actions. He keeps grabbing and leading her by her wrist. Mostly in a gentle, but sometimes in a more forceful manner.
The more he tries to keep her close, the more frantic and urgent her movements become. At one point she even desperately starts taking swings at him, only hitting empty air. There is an actual struggle near the end, which shows every atom of her body seeming to try and get away from him. Her continued efforts to flee are punctuated by her heavy breathing – for a performance that is programmed during a music-centred festival, Want is the Wick isn’t very heavy on music (the music that is sparingly used, is by 15th century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria).
But when she finally does break free, she hesitates…She turns her back to the exit…and returns – willingly – to his embrace. Is it in ready surrender or in resignation? I think Shropshire and I will have to agree to disagree.
Seen: September 21, Cellebroederskapel, Maastricht. Musica Sacra Festival.