The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
October 18, 2018
Brazil’s Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker accentuates the beauty and versatility of the human body like no other dance company I know. Colker’s highly athletic choreography, seen widely in Cirque De Soleil’s Ovo and the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, is demanding. Thanks to the company’s strong dancers, the challenging choreography appears effortless. I’ve rarely seen dancers so in tune with the music and each other. Colker’s uncompromising artistic vision must fuel their perfection. You cannot leave a performance of this company unimpressed.
In Cão Sem Plumas (Dog Without Feathers), an evening length work based on a poem by João Cabral, fourteen dancers take on the Capibaribe River and its environment. On a scrim at the back of the stage, film directed by Cláudio Assis and Colker plays, although these images are not always present. Stark black and white footage from a voyage down the Capibaribe River sets the stage for the complex movement in the foreground. Musical direction by Jorge Dü Peixe and Berna Ceppas contributes an intriguing mixed soundtrack, full of drumbeats and electronics.
In the beginning, a single dancer dodges and scrambles, kicking up dust, while on the screen there are close-up shots of a cracked, dry riverbed. Music pounds as more dancers enter the stage. They move snappily in a sort of ritual. Hips and shoulders swivel, feel stomp. The dancers wear nude textured unitards, giving the impression that they are caked in mud (costumes by Claudia Kopke). The lighting design by Jorginho De Carvalho keeps the stage rather dark, obscuring the dancers’ faces but highlighting the shapes their bodies make. Large rusted metal boxes represent not only the dilapidated landscape at the river’s edge, but also cages that enclose the dancers and serve as surfaces on which to climb (art direction and set design by Gringo Cardia).
Early in the work, dancers flat on the ground roll like waves to verses read aloud, and this liquid rolling later returns. In between, dancers rise and fall with startling ease and frequency, or leap and turn in the air like martial artists. Wrapped in long fabric strips hanging from the ceiling in one section, they sway like sugar cane stalks, their supple bodies stretching. Dancers with devices like crutches or ski poles become active roots of mangrove trees.
Entrancing lyrical dancing happens, too. In a duet, a pair of dancers so seamlessly partner that it’s nearly impossible to tell where one body ends and the other begins. Close to the floor and entwined, they propel forward like a slow-moving insect. In a section titled “Herons,” three women en pointe represent elegant birds, but the program notes also describe them as the elite who turn their backs on the poor.
Cão Sem Plumas meanders, but so do rivers. I didn’t mind that my attention was sometimes drawn away from the dancing to the film and vice versa. The overall journey, while a bit long, is rewarding. Like a National Geographic article come to life, this detailed and intimate portrait of Brazil’s northeastern Pernambuco region is affecting.