A Special Wedding Invitation
By Diane Parkes
Audiences across the UK are being invited to join a wedding party in the new dance production The Knot which tours this autumn.
Created by internationally renowned choreographer Didy Veldman, The Knot looks at the modern-day phenomenon of the ‘perfect’ marriage party. With seven dancers taking on the roles of bride, groom, best man and bridesmaids the audience becomes the guests at the wedding celebrations.
In a year when the country has been gripped by wedding fever thanks to the royal marriages of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, the tour is the ideal time to explore the concept of tying the knot.
“People are fascinated by the idea of weddings,” says Didy. “I think what we are actually looking for is a sense of binding and a sense of ritual but what we’ve done in our Western culture is that the ritual has disappeared and what has taken its place is the slightly more commercial aspect of marriage and of weddings and wedding parties.
“They can be all about the stress of it, the seating arrangements, the dress, who do you invite – all of that has become immensely important. I think maybe deep down there is a need to go back to that more basic, even pure element of joining people together.
“It’s so powerful and such a beautiful moment when two people decide to get married but it has changed over the last century as our values have changed. And yet it’s still something that is so much a part of our everyday life – that wanting to connect with people, to bind together and to find unity.”
The Knot also looks at people’s assumptions of the modern wedding.
“Part of it is expectation - there is a dream and an idea of the ‘perfect day’. If you talk to people about getting married it all has to be perfect – the dress has to be perfect, the guest list has to be perfect, even the husband has to be perfect. It’s a day that is going to be remembered for the rest of their lives. Not everyone is like that, I’m generalizing of course, but there is often this pressure for it to be the ‘perfect day’.”
When it came to creating the piece, Didy, who was born in The Netherlands but is now based in London, did not need to look far for ideas and inspiration.
“When I got married I was amazed by the power of the ritual, I had not expected that and it was one of the reasons why the idea of this piece attracted me so much. I thought I’d really like to talk about that in dance.
“The research took place gradually over a couple of years. I had attended weddings which had sparked ideas and then I was looking at movies of weddings and talking to people about their weddings and their thoughts about them. When we started the production one of the dancers in the show was in the midst of preparing and organizing his wedding so some of the ideas in the show also came from him.”
In some ways though the research for The Knot began even further back when Didy was commissioned by Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève to create a new dance piece to music by Stravinsky in 2013. Didy chose Stravinsky’s Les Noces (The Wedding) but felt limited by the length of the music.
“Stravinsky’s music is so dense, it’s difficult and demanding music but I really loved the music for Les Noces. While I was working on this for Geneva Ballet I loved the demand of the music and I was actually intrigued that I enjoyed that so much. But I was also slightly frustrated that I had so much to say about marriage and weddings and I felt the music was too short for the piece I wanted to create. It was only about 25 minutes and it felt like it needed much more to it. So there was a thought in my head to re-do it in the future.”
And the opportunity arose when Didy formed her own company Umanoove in 2016. Her first work as an independent company, The Happiness Project, was critically acclaimed and so when she was looking for inspiration for the company’s second work she returned to her idea of the wedding party.
In order to provide more base material, she commissioned British composer Ben Foskett to create new music to extend Stravinsky’s score.
“Les Noces is made up of four different tableaux and I wanted to use those,” Didy explains. “Usually it is all played in one go but I received permission to put music between those tableaux. I wanted to honour them but somehow stretch the score. In the conversations that Ben and I had it was clear that neither of us wanted to compete with Stravinsky’s music – we wanted to use a similar instrumentation but create more space.
“I discussed scenes that I wanted to tackle and insert which I didn’t feel I could with Stravinsky’s layered score and that was how Ben and I were able to work together. He would send me some music for a scene which I had in mind and then I would create a little bit and send it back to him and he would then do a bit more and that was how we constructed and built the piece.”
The Knot was premiered in Ipswich and Guildford in February of this year.
“People told me how much it had touched them,” says Didy. “People told me they had laughed, they had cried, they had been through lots of emotions – it was lovely that the show inspired so many mixed emotions.”
The Knot now embarks on an 11-venue tour of the UK taking in Nottingham, Cambridge, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Bracknell, Worthing, London, Jersey, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Malvern.
In a hugely successful career, Didy danced with a host of companies including Scapino Ballet, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève and Rambert. In the late 1980s she began choreographing, forming Alias Company with Guilherme Botelho in 1992. Gradually she was choreographing more than dancing.
Over the past 20 years she has created works with a host of top companies including Northern Ballet, Rambert, Ballet Gulbenkian, Scottish Dance Theatre, Gothenberg Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Introdans and Iceland Dance Company. Next year she will work with Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of composer Sergei Prokofiev, to create a new work for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ballet Now programme.
Founding her own company in the UK with the support of organisations including Arts Council England and DanceEast has ensured Didy can create works independently.
“It was always my dream to construct something of my own,” she says. “I am at a stage in my career where that has become really important for me. I have learned so much from working with so many different companies in so many different countries and you reach a point where you want to use that experience and build something for yourself.
“You have the freedom to choose what you want to do but of course having your own company also has its own limitations because there’s a lot of time which needs to be spent in the organization of the company. It’s not easy to set up your own company – you need a lot of support and I’m very lucky because I’m getting that support.
“What is wonderful about having my own company is that I can really focus on a work – we can rehearse it from morning to evening without being bound by the schedule of another company or other works that company is performing. The dancers can also really focus on one work so there’s a real continuity to creating the work. That’s a real opportunity.
“With my company what I’m really trying to do is build excellence so I really enjoy working with dancers who are at a very high level. The dancers who I have collaborated with to create this work are very important to me.”
Didy is optimistic The Knot will give audiences plenty to think about.
“I hope people who come will reflect on weddings and marriage and our ideas in society about the ideal partner and the amount of pressure we put on one day. I’d love them to reflect on what a wedding is really about.
“And at the same time I want them to have a really great time because this is a party we are creating. The audience is part of the wedding, they are the wedding guests and there will be a little bit of a chance to take part. It’s never forced but there are suggestions being made for people to participate if they want to!”