Dancers Eve Mutso and Joel Brown talk to Ballet Position about 111, a duet combining their diverse yet complementary abilities
There are times when you come upon something that so subverts your preconceptions and expectations that you are left dazed and gasping for air.
One such was, for me, 111 (One Hundred and Eleven), a dance duet that seamlessly blends the very diverse physicalities of Eve Mutso, formerly a Principal Dancer with Scottish Ballet, and Joel Brown, a member of the inclusive ensemble Candoco Dance Company.
Set to a medley of music that segues from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, through Dawn of Midi, Julia Jacklin and Radiohead, 111 results from, in Eve Mutso’s words,
“Curiosity about how we can explore movement coming from such different backgrounds and techniques, and then develop a movement language which combines our own abilities and experiences, but also pushing our weaknesses to the next level.”
Joel Brown adds, “I’m interested in saying something a little bit more than presenting just movement. At the same time, I also do believe in movement for movement’s sake (…)
“So, it’s narrative in the sense of, ‘dear audience, I’m Joel, this is Eve, we enjoy doing this together.’ So, it’s framed with a relationship.”
It is one of the most intense, complete on-stage relationships you’re ever likely to see. When their eyes lock, which is often, they establish a climate of trust and intimacy so profound it sets your heart beating faster.
111 – Where it all began
Joel Brown and Eve Mutso met four years ago at a Glasgow joint workshop by Scottish Ballet, Indepen-dance (a company for able and disabled dancers) and Marc Brew Company.
Estonian-born Eve was still dancing with Scottish Ballet; American Joel, then a member of the physically-integrated Axis Dance Company, based in California, was a guest there.
There was an instant rapport: in Joel’s words, “we just got on.”
There’s a little more to it than that: in the opening sequence of 111, Joel recounts how he kept sending her little notes that started, “Eve, can I tell you something?” and always ended with an invitation to dance.
Four years on, the depth of their rapport is one of the many breath-taking aspects of 111, the new work they are taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe prior to a wide-ranging international tour.
The title is an in-joke: because of her ballet training, Eve Mutso’s supple spine seems to have 100 vertebrae, rather than the standard 32; Joel’s spine is fused, so he jokes he only has 11 vertebrae.
The sum of both comes to 111.
111 – The Challenges
Ballet Position watched a rehearsal in a bare London studio; and even without the benefit of full staging and atmospheric lighting it became clear what a powerful, entrancing work this is.
It starts on the floor downstage, then moves centre stage, where Joel Brown’s gliding wheelchair provides a focus for Joel and Eve’s dancing, arms interlocking, flowing and turning in a smooth perpetuum mobile of preternatural coordination.
The next sequence takes place within an aerial frame that looms upstage, where the two dancers hang, twirl and climb, in the process creating unexpected and exciting configurations.
“You can see that frame as an exoskeleton,” says Joel. “You can see my two wheelchairs as exoskeletons, maybe… but we have our real skeletons as well, and spines are quite integral.
“We expose something about our bodies and I think maybe mine is a little more mysterious.”
He was paralysed at nine-years-old; but, coming from a large family of dancers and gymnasts, remained active in sport and dancing.
“When I kind of jokingly demonstrate how, if I shift a hip, then I’m able to rotate, it’s important, because it’s kind of funny, but also it’s true and it’s not too precious around disability.
“It’s the reality of my physicality; and I think it’s important for the audience to have a sort of understanding of my physicality.”
For Eve Mutso that frame represents a whole new challenge. For one thing, she used to be scared of heights:
“I’d never done anything aerial before, never had to adjust my body to these quite challenging, difficult ways of dancing and creating movement.”
The work ends with both dancers on the floor, Joel having jettisoned his wheelchair, both moving slowly, shifting their bodies in perfect unison, though it’s noticeable – and interesting – that Joel’s movement is a touch more fluid than Eve’s.
Joel: “One of my favourite feelings in that floor phase is this real connection between head and tail [laughs].
“I’m on the floor and I’m pushing on the ground, but I really feel that I’m moving my tail. (…) I think when you bring attention to your whole spine, you move in a more integrated way.”
There’s an undeniably erotic undercurrent to 111; but not deliberately so, says Eve:
“It’s about what different relationships can be on stage, in life; and also how communication can develop through the movement. You don’t have to touch somebody to feel a connection.
“I think every section is offering another insight into us as artists, as humans and as friends. We keep saying we all are boxed [in] in a way; so, it’s trying to take away the limits and use this set as a liberating place to function.”
111 – Edinburgh and Beyond
111 has been selected as part of the 2019 Made in Scotland programme, a curated showcase of music, theatre and dance performed during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Beyond that, an extensive international tour is planned; but it has to be built around the performers’ other commitments.
Now a freelance dancer and choreographer, Eve Mutso is going back to Estonia, the prodigal daughter returning to her first company, Estonian National Ballet, with whom she has re-established a fruitful collaboration since leaving Scottish Ballet.
She’ll dance the lead role of Blanche DuBois in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Nancy Meckler’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which she first performed to great acclaim with Scottish Ballet.
Joel Brown, who settled on these shores four years ago, is a full-time member of Candoco Dance Company, the UK’s leading troupe for disabled and non-disabled dancers.
A versatile artist, Joel Brown is also a singer and songwriter, and will have a prominent singing and dancing part in The Lost Thing, a collaboration between Candoco Dance Company and The Royal Opera, which plays at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre over the Christmas period.
A musical reimagining of Shaun Tan’s beautifully illustrated book about a boy who helps a lost thing find its way home, it’s a show for all the family, a story about how we are all connected.
It’s a theme not a million miles away from Eve Mutso and Joel Brown’s 111…
by Teresa Guerreiro
111 is at Emerald Theatre, Greenside @ Nicolson Square (venue 209), Edinburgh
Mon 19 – Sat 24 Aug
The Lost Thing is at the ROH, Linbury Theatre
7 Dec 2019 – 4 Jan 2020