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Flash Review, 2-17: Oh, Wheel of Dance
Merry-go-Colker at the Joyce

By Albert Lee
Copyright 2000 Albert Lee

Deborah Colker, the Rio de Janeiro-based choreographer, brings to mind Pilobolus -- which is to say she's a populist scorned by pointy-heads who mistrust her deliberately playful theatrics and probably never had any use for playgrounds. She admitted as much to Valerie Gladstone in last Sunday's Times: "Why make dances, if not for everyone?"

I love this capacious philosophy. Dance needs all the fans it can get--showmanship is no crime -- and Colker doesn't compromise on the ideas underlying the rush she gives to her audience.

"Rota," her new, talked-about work for her fifteen-member Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker, arrived at the Joyce Wednesday and departs on Sunday. The kids love it. The grown-ups do too. The piece runs about ninety minutes and is divided by the intermission into two very distinct parts.

I loved the first. It was like watching kids on a playground. The dancers perambulate and scratch their heads, drop to the ground and rest their chins on their fists, slap their faces and try to bite their feet. They jump on top of each other's backs, hold their hands over another's eyes, push a partner into a pirouette, slap one another and get slapped back. Even the lighting and music (everything from Schubert to the electronica band Aphex Twin) felt impulsive. I had forgotten about the subtle nuances of play--its nuttiness and meanness and friendliness and ennui and volatility. It's a tonic to be reminded.

As happens on a playground, there was lots of dashing about and small explosions of movement around the stage, in addition to long phrases performed in unison. But it was never chaotic. Rather, it was like a series of kinetic interactions, one event following the next.

Colker's dancers are beautiful, lean, and athletic, and manage to carry in their limbs both the intensity and inconsequentiality of each moment. Her basic vocabulary is classical, but it's fascinating to see how she's rejiggered it. An attitude is like a question mark above the head, a rond de jambe like drawing a circle in the sand, a pirouette like a moment of goofy excitement. All in all, it feels like a masterpiece of whimsy and wonder.

The second half, split into two parts titled "Gravity" and "Wheel," could be a different work altogether. First, here is Gringo Cardia's set: a giant hamster wheel with X-frame ladders set amidst scaffolding that brings to mind a circus high-wire act. Then there is the crepuscular lighting and fog. And there is the choreography, which is aggressively acrobatic.

"Gravity" comprises slow, deliberate strides and gravity-testing feats, like a man walking across lined-up shoulders, couples leaning into each other at forty-five-degree angles, and headstands. "Wheel" is the high-wire act. The dancers climb through the rungs of the spinning twenty-two-foot wheel, crawl around inside it, spin it like the big money wheel on "The Price Is Right" and hang on for a ride. Watching it makes you feel tense. And amazed. Meanwhile, others scale the ladders and make clever, painful-looking shapes, like stretching out perpendicularly, and there were some artful pas des deux on the ground, but I don't think anyone was paying any attention to them.

It elicits an ambivalent reaction at first. The dancers are powerful and visually striking, but the movement has little depth or texture. But then I remembered seeing the stormy Argentineans of "De La Guarda" (still going strong at the Daryl Roth Theatre), and wondered if there was a tradition of South American theatricality. So I cast aside my doubts, and had a very good time.

Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker includes Colker, Alexandra Araujo, Jefferson Antonio, Carolina Wiehoff, Jill Moraes, Luiza Continentino, Edson Beserra, Marcelo Lopes, Fernanda Cavalcanti, Milton Kennedy, Flavia Coredeiro, Rico Ozon, Ivaldo Mendonca, Rodrigo Werneck, and Jacqueline Mota. The lighting was designed by Jorginho de Calvalho, costumes were by Yame Reis, and musical direction was by Berna Ceppas, Alexandre Kassin, and Sergio Mekler.

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