Hold Your Horses
There is an intriguing friction in Hold Your Horses, the latest performance by De Dansers (co-produced by the Berlin-based Theater Strahl), seen on 7 October at De Schuur (formerly Toneelschuur) in Haarlem. It is so easy to be swept away by the passionate and high-spirited dancers and musician Guy Corneille’s comforting sounds. But when I take the theme of the piece into account, looking for something to hold onto in a volatile world, comfort is exactly what is in short supply.
Corona is never mentioned, but it is deeply embedded in the show’s DNA all the same. After eighteen months of keeping your distance, when even a hand shake was suspect, any form of touch or physical contact acquires heightened meaning.
Not unsurprisingly, arms and hands are the main focus in the choreography by Josephine van Rheenen. This is apparent right from the start, when the five dancers are seated at a table performing an intricate choreography for five pairs of arms and hands.
In Dutch there is an evocative term for the type of sensory deprivation that many people experienced these past two years: ‘huidhonger’, roughly translated as ‘touch starved’. In Hold Your Horses this sense of huidhonger is most tangible in a scene where Yeli Beurskens is constantly reaching out to other people, but keeps grabbing nothing but air. Not all is immediately well now that social distancing is no longer mandatory, which becomes apparent when Corneille and Arturo Vargas scoot their chairs closer and closer together until their knees touch. This is the starting signal for a heated duel with the arms, where neither really seems to know what they are doing. In an earlier duet, Beurskens and Liam McCall likewise tried to reconnect, but kept failing to grasp each other’s hand – they settled for each other’s wrist instead.
The second half of the performance is a frantic search to reconnect, accompanied by Corneille’s deceptively soothing songs. The first renewed contact between the dancers is purely physical: just two bodies bumping into each other, ending more in a wrestler’s hold than in an embrace. In the two duets, between Beurskens and Marie Khatib-Shahidi and McCall and Youri Peters, the bodies function almost like props, offering support but not actual comfort.
So much has become alien and has to be relearnt. It takes time to grow comfortable again (if you ever were) around groups of people coming up close. Khatib-Shahidi has to regain her trust in the other dancers to be there and catch her when she plunges herself from a tower of tables into the deep. We all have to relearn how to derive comfort from physical contact.
It is something that can’t be done by force, as Corneille and Beurskens prove in their final duet, where they launch themselves into each other’s arms with such force that I can actually hear the air escaping from their lungs on impact. These things need time, care and a certain amount of caution. Which is just what the title, Hold Your Horses, advises.