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Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker

By Theodore Bale

Jones Hall

Society for the Performing Arts
Houston, TX
October 12, 2012


For much of his career, American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock poured and dripped his paint. He would have had a very different result if he’d kept the canvas upright on an easel or a wall. The simple act of turning the painting into a horizontal surface by putting it on the floor was a touch of simple, yet significant, genius.

The innovation of Pollock was invoked in the spectacular finale of Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker’s Mix, presented by Society for the Performing Arts for one night only. It was spellbinding to see the Brazilian company’s director/choreographer doing the exact opposite of Pollock—namely, transforming a flat dancing stage into an imposing vertical surface. At first, the dancers quickly scale the wall in myriad patterns, completing unison phrases that don’t seem to fit a traditional definition of dance. As the scene progresses, however, they begin to sway and climb above and around each other with impressive phrasing. Perhaps the most daunting passage has them supported from rock-climbing holds only by the feet and the chin, cruciform. These holds form an evenly spaced grid over a large painted red circle on a light blue background. With the seemingly super-human dancers dressed in tight black costumes, the final effect is almost like watching a vigorously organized ant colony dancing under a huge microscope.

Colker’s choice is equally a touch of genius, even if it is not without precedent. Numerous choreographers have challenged the laws of gravity, with diverging degrees of theatrical success. Trisha Brown’s seminal 1968 Planes was performed on a hole-filled wall, decorated by Jud Yalkut’s aerial film scenes, creating for the audience a sense that the dancers were falling through space. In the late 1980s, Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers threw themselves against a white ballroom wall, only to be caught by some carefully-positioned pegs. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company members hung despondently from doors and walls in her 1990 Stella. Colker’s Mix is entirely different, however, particularly because it is not about the oppressive inevitability of gravity. On the contrary, she focuses on triumphant conquest, brazenly asserted more than 20 feet above the floor, without a safety net.

 

 

Photos of Colker's Mix by Flavio Colker, courtesy Society for the Performing Arts.

 

The passage aptly titled “Mountaineering” comes seventh in a series of compelling scenes focused on different movement systems and strategies, gestural groupings, and intricate explorations of ensemble work. The opening, “Machines,” suggests a community of androids, a striking coincidence after Houston Ballet’s recent premiere of Aszure Barton’s Angular Momentum, which also used humans to portray robots. Colker often plays two dancers in unison, but at a distance from each other, not unlike Lucinda Childs’ “Field Dances” in Einstein on the Beach. “Fashion Show” is a compendium of gestures and movement phrases set to Brazilian popular music, from samba to bossa nova. The events are familiar to anyone who has observed a fashion runway, even if the metaphor runs deep (the catwalk emerges from three enormous wooden chairs).

Subsequent scenes include the dense “Passion,” featuring 23 simultaneous, pushing and shoving pas-de-deux with a highly fragmented audio mix of 1970s American pop love-songs spanning Bread to Stevie Wonder; a study of pacing, effort, and geometric patterns called “Mechanics”; and a wonderfully Judson Dance Theater–like étude aptly titled “Quotidian,” which focuses on seemingly uneventful everyday gaits and strolls. The dancers are glamorous and versatile; by the finale they seem like demi-gods forging a path on a new planet.