“Let’s call the whole thing off,” sang Astaire and Rogers, citing personal differences when, really, they are just echoes of each other. Take that image, strip it of romance, expose its spirals of fear and greed, and shine a light into the hall of mirrors which imprisons their psyches – and you get a flavour of Liam Steel’s Knots, based on countercultural psychologist RD Laing’s book of the same name, and performed by Dublin-based CoisCéim Dance Theatre.
It opens with three brides, all called Jill, and their grooms, all Jacks, who tell us what knot is being tied: each partner needs to be needed and fears being abandoned, leading to an endless tangle of desperate second-guessing. The result is never happy. The balletic harmony of a duet is broken by a pair’s mounting vocal frustration with each other. One Jack tests, then rejects all the Jills for failing to fit the mould of his imaginary Cinderella. A close couple look tender – then you notice they are manacled together. In solos, the dancers’ bodies contort; even alone, what they want and what they get are never the same.
Ferdia Murphy’s clinical white set adds to the sense of dysfunction: tables that could be hospital sickbeds, curtained cubicles that act variously as isolation cells, escape holes and confession boxes.
The dancers are not great technicians, but they are gutsy, convincing performers. The production is sometimes heavy-handed, bludgeoning its audience with noise and action. And it can be repetitive – but that’s another Laingian knot: how many repetitions does it take to make a point when the point is repetition? Those about to get hitched may want to stick with the Fred and Ginger version of coupledom.