“Look when there is nothing to see and listen when there is nothing to hear”. This Indian saying, according to Raimund Hoghe in the programme booklet, is a mantra for his creations. Pas de Deux opposes over-stimulation and the spectacular. Its slow, quiet insistence overpowers the bustle of the city instead — permeating the theatre with a different sense of time.
The stage is set with no wings (curtains on the sides). Black curtains wrap tightly around the edge of the stage, leaving only two entrances on each side. Wearing traditional Japanese clogs, the geta, dancer Takashi Ueno quietly enters from our right. Unlike English texts, where we read from left to right, Japanese texts are read from right to left. Beginnings and endings, past and future, have a different direction in each culture. Holding a long-handled wooden scoop, Ueno pours water onto his arm. Tracing the edge of the stage, Ueno treads slowly upstage as the water dances off his fingers, flows onto the floor, leaving a track. Leaving traces like a work of invisible calligraphy.
Eventually, Hoghe enters from the opposite side. Also dressed in black pants, long sleeves and the geta, Hoghe is holding a Japanese paper umbrella over his head and shuffling along the edge of the stage. They meet in the back corner of the stage, hand their objects to each other, and with both sheltered under one umbrella, make their way forward towards the audience in perfect synchronization. An image that encapsulates the piece: two men, despite their differences of height, age, body type and background, work closely together under the same roof towards some sort of common goal. The duet unfurls, like ink spreading. It may test your patience, lull you into meditative contemplation – or perhaps a bit of both.
Although titled Pas de Deux, a French term used in ballet meaning “step of two”, the soundscape played such a strong role throughout the piece that, sometimes it felt like a pas de trios, a trio. From melodic arias to famous pop music, the music seemed to emanate from each image created on stage. The two performers stood completely still at the sides of the stage while the dramatic and full music played on, seemingly dancing in the empty spaces between them. In another instance, Ueno and Hoghe ritualistically wrapped themselves in kimono sashes and morphed into a series of poses, their connection fragile and precious, through their sashes. The music seemed to hold the performance together in the same careful way.
The piece retained a relatively serious tone throughout, alleviated by surprises and touches of humour. Ueno folds the sash into a bow, but we only see what he has made when Hoghe takes it and places it on his head. With this fabulous headgear, sunglasses and a flower held like a cigarette between his fingers, Hoghe calls to mind an old Hollywood film star like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He saunters forwards to a jazzy “I Love Paris” quietly playing in the background. Hoghe also transforms into a ringmaster. Taking centre stage, he gestures for Ueno to sprint rounds around the entire stage multiple times, drawing laughter from the audience. Their power dynamic becomes a source of humour.
The differences in their age and bodies were apparent throughout the whole work. When both men took off their tops and tied the shirts across their bodies like towels, we saw most clearly the stark contrast between Hoghe’s ageing body, his curved spine, versus Ueno’s young and fit stature.
This intergenerational work was a refreshing counterbalance to the more typical displays of muscular young bodies. With Hoghe, we witnessed that the older body has rich stories to tell. Hoghe performed with grace, ease and an unassuming quality, pushing the limits of his own body. Even performing balletic lifts typical of a traditional pas de deux — tapping on the simple awe of showing off athletic feats — their understated bravura and lack of spectacular flourish seemed to comment upon the silliness of these long-adored moves. Their lifts and dips drew attention to human connection and trust. They seemed to say, look, the imperfect, non-ballerina body can do this too, and what a joyful thing.
Sometimes it is in simplicity where a piece resonates with audiences of all ages; why not stage life as it is? Facing each other, Ueno picked up both of Hoghe’s hands and when Ueno released his grip, Hoghe’s hands remained at that height before slowly dissolving back to their initial positions by his side. In this sequence of events, the men continued to repeatedly pick up different body parts of the other – shoulders, arms, etc.
Simple yet sophisticated, Pas de Deux was a meditative piece that urged audiences to find beauty in subtlety. At two hours with no intermission, the piece was a slow but beautiful burn. Pas de Deux urged audiences to adopt a Zen-like posture and gave audiences space – space to contemplate life and the human condition.
Pas de Deux by German choreographer Raimund Hoghe, performed by Hoghe and dancer Takashi Ueno, was presented at Esplanade’s da:ns festival 2019 in Singapore. Hoghe first began a career as a journalist with German newspaper Die Zeit before becoming a dramaturg for Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal from 1980 to 1990. Since 1989, Hoghe has been creating his own theatre works for actors and dancers.