An Extraordinary Partnership
It's hard to put into words the power and pleasure of watching longtime company members Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie dance together. Leslie is avid, emotive, quicksilver, precise – she can project steely toughness, tender vulnerability and every shade in between with natural ease. Douglas is elegant, sensuous and intensely rhythmic – he has this uncanny ability to link his energy to his partner with the extra-fine resonance of a tuning fork. Together, they’re incredibly exciting to watch, and in five years of dancing as a duo in my work, their artistry has become so skillful, so intimate, so honest in every molecule, that it’s truly something special.
In the company's early years, I brought Leslie and Doug to the MANCC residency in Florida where we had two weeks in the studio to experiment. We started improvising with slapping each other’s bodies to make rhythms, culminating in the infamous “slappy” duet from Bridge of Sighs during which Leslie and Doug have a ferociously good time whaling on each other with abandon. Audiences always gasp and giggle nervously at the no-holds barred intensity of this duet between this tiny woman and this tall man...but there’s something about the way Leslie and Doug dance it that allows us to see past the startling, violent surface to the layers of affection and attraction that make love so intoxicating, exciting, unpredictable.
That early period sealed their working relationship and helped me recognize their unique potential together. Leslie and Doug remain blessedly willing to venture forth into the unknown, powered by a mutual trust that underpins countless stunning moments between them in my work. This latest duet from the opera Weakness is a lyrical and sensuous extension of their daily, committed practice over the years: all the trying and failing and trying again, spills and misses, tension and apologies, wry glances and whispered jokes, the constant return to touch, to sensing each other during sweat, pain, pressure, and finally, arriving together into the “flow” of good dancing, pure connection, the joy of achieving together.
The singular electricity of dancing, and the profound flavor of intimacy, is completely present while Leslie and Doug are in motion together. I’ve had the honor for the last five years of witnessing two individually remarkable artists merge into a dance partnership unlike anything else I’ve seen. When they move together, we’re carried forward into love, trust, pain, reunion, safety - into the wild and coursing river of relationship. It’s an intimate gift they offer.
“These two … are extraordinary. They slide awkwardly, yet knowingly together; sometimes you’re not sure whether he has picked her up or she has climbed onto him. Nothing seems feigned or studied; you feel their desire viscerally as part love, part anger, part question.”
~ Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice (re: Bright Land, 2010)
Top photo: Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie in "Weakness". Photos by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang