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The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Athletic Veneer

4 Por 4
Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker
ennedy  Center Eisenhower Theater
October 9, 2003

By Lisa Traiger
Copyright ©2003 by Lisa Traiger

For inspiration and collaboration Brazilian-based contemporary choreographer Deborah Colker found as her subject matter the visual arts and her evening-length 4 Por 4 featured four distinct artists or artistic groups over the course of the program. On Thursday, when Colker returned to the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre with her 14 dancers she brought with her, too, the products of her four artist-collaborators, all Brazilian artists—Cildo Meireles, a four-artist group that calls itself Chelpa Ferro, Victor Arruda and Gringo Cardia, Colker's set designer since she founded the company in 1994. These artists have allowed their works—paintings, sculptures, installations and sets—to become integrated into Colker's athletic, fearlessly physical choreography.

Colker's Casa, which came to the Kennedy Center two years earlier, used architecture—a two-story shell of a house on stage—to limn the inner workings of a community of people who moved through the rooms in a seemingly metaphorical quest for knowledge or enlightenment of a sort. This time, little of the prosaic found its way into Colker's work. 4 Por 4 is all surface gloss, painting a veneer atop a weakly realized concept.

The program's first half featured three distinct sections: "Corners," with Meireles optically challenging panels; "Table," Chelpa Ferro's technical and theatrical moving table sculpture; and, finally, in "Some People," painter Victor Arruda's large-scale cartoonish-but-adult works that cover the floor and the back wall of the stage. Only Meireles' "Corners" provided enough of interest for Colker to play with inventive movement motifs. These duel panels play tricks on our perceptions for sometimes the dancers disappear in a corner, defy gravity and stand horizontally to the floor or hang effortlessly from the top ledge. And the dancers, how they take to these game-like assignments. The women, beautiful, or at least pretty, in arm-baring knit dresses and strappy high-heeled sandals, pose and strut like so many bored models out for a stroll on a catwalk. Tall and lean, their muscularly sculpted legs and torsos are hard but elegant; these aren't ordinary women, they're supermodels. And when the men come on, it's all they can do to hold, shape or maneuver the women around these cornered panels. How modern they look, their bored pretty faces and blank eyes staring out at an audience hungry for every sensuous morsel of this body geometry.

The rolling table by Chelpa Ferro contains another visual pun. The table gradually makes its way across the front of the stage, with no cords or strings attached, carrying a pair of dancers, whose sustained geometrics imitate the 90-degree angles and flat horizontal surface of the tabletop. Then the dancers begin to slide from front to back—the table has its own built-in conveyer belt - but other than the moment or two it takes a viewer to parse this illusion, the table and the belt really add little to the overall work.

For "Some People," Colker admitted in a post-show Q&A that she was going for something a little "trashy." The dancers look like Gap kids from the wrong side of the tracks, their tight jeans and bright-colored Ts begin to feel out of whack when they raunch up their bodies with blatant examples of unmentionable. From nose picking to butt scratching and everything else your mother told you not to do in public, Colker has asked her dancers to do, and they do, with relish. It's crude, rude and childishly scatological. And that's what the choreographer was unfortunately aiming for, without apology and without satiric bite. She even used Disney's "Someday My Prince Will Come" for a further puerile effect. Unfortunately the joke is a low one, without the edge of satire or irony it feels like a playground full of 10-year-olds without a chaperone.

An athletic duet, performed on pointe by two women opened the second part of the evening. "Overture—The Girls" also featured Colker on piano playing Mozart's Sonata in A Major. Perhaps in slight reference to Degas' ballet girls, these two, in briefs and bare legs, took up momentary Degas-like stances but their look was more athletic than balletic, their classic turns and catlike pas de chats pumped up, as if on steroids. As they dance, the company begins carrying on painted vases, which eventually cover the stage for the final section, "Vases." Again, Colker presents a technical challenge for the dancers who must maneuver around and above this chessboard of vases with leaps and lunges, falls and rolls. The music by this point becomes space agey and the dancers come on and eek out little moments in the alleys between the vases—hand springs, leggy karate-like kicks, and yoga-like concentrated balances. The feat here is for the dancers, not the choreographer, to keep up their high risk, frenetic pace without knocking down a single vase. And they do it, achieving a win, like some random amusement park game where you need to toss a football through a swinging tire. But then, so what?

We already knew Colker's dancers could finesse her uninhibited brand of flash and muscle technique and look great while doing it, but what has she found to say about the relationships that can so fruitfully grow out of deep artistic collaborations? Little. At the turn of the previous century, in Europe and in Russia artistic collaborations resulted in some of the most ground breaking and forward-thinking performance in memory, think of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Colker has the artists and the access, but it seems that perhaps she's missed out on the collaboration; "4 Por 4" wants to explicate the relationships between contemporary dance and contemporary visual arts but "4 Por 4" is all veneer.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 3
October 13, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Lisa Traiger




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The Autumn DanceView is out:

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last updated on October 7, 2003