In Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1957 novel Jealousy, a jealous husband obsessively observes his wife and a neighbour. Its narrative structure has an almost excessive objectivity: “It’s no use making up contrary possibilities, since things are the way they are: reality stays the same.”
Throughout the novel, one is inclined to question this: the husband provides only one viewpoint, and is truth objective? This concept is the inspiration of a dance and visual arts collaboration, also called Jealousy, the first dance piece to be commissioned at The Print Room.
Laurence Kavanagh’s installation, around which the dance is structured, is a study in elegant minimalism. Essentially a flat plan of a house, windows, blinds and pillars obscure parts of the action so you are acutely aware that what you see is only one point of view, one version of a story. Anywhere you sit, there will be sections that appear hazy – is that couple blissfully happy, or in the midst of a fight? You can never be sure.
The entire set is made of card, string and pins. The literal foundation of the characters is at the same time the foundation of their relationships: shaky, temporary, fragile. The sense of stability paramount to both architecture and relationships has been stripped away.
Four emerging choreographers created pieces for Jealousy. James Cousins’ detached couple, Katie Lusby and Aaron Vickers, particularly stands out, with an initial duet that’s performed as if in autopilot without them ever looking at each other. But the more mesmerising choreography comes later, when the couple is trapped within prison bars created by the lights and the venetian blinds, and the repetitive movements imply a never-ending discord.
Their lifts are as far away from classical pas de deuxs as you can imagine, with an aggressive undertone. Cleverly, Cousins makes us unwitting participants in their woes, with some of the lifts quite literally in your face. But the sequence that feels most resonant of the original novel comes from Morgann Runacre-Temple who, in my opinion, most effectively conveys the silent observer status of the book’s protagonist.
Amy Drew and Jack Jones are embroiled in a duet that offers a sense of affection that is missing from much of the piece, with interlocking arms that never part from the other’s. But it’s confusing as to whether we have become the husband silently watching his obsession unfold, or if we are part of the secret. The sound of heartbeat accentuates this: is it from the thrill of being the voyeur, or the pulsing heartbeat of intimacy?
What Jealousy gains in perspectives with its use of multiple choreographers, it lacks in coherence. At times, it certainly feels like it should have been created with the vision of one person. For instance, as Daniel Hay-Gordon’s solo becomes increasingly erratic, he appears imprisoned by the lights reflected from the blinds. But that same device has been employed elsewhere and the dramatic impact is lost.
But when it works, the piece takes a fascinating look at an emotion that is perhaps tough to portray without reducing it to play-acting. It’s not perfect, but this bold, experimental collaboration is intriguing enough for you to want more.