She took as her starting point the poem Cão Sem Plumas, Dog Without Feathers, by the Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, an elegy to Brazil’s ecology and a warning of the devastating impact of relentless human activity on the environment; and she anchored the whole concept in North East Brazil’s Capibaribe River.
Sound marks the beginning of Deborah Colker Dance Company's Dog Without Feathers: a generic electronic continuum overlaid with the hyper-real sound of footsteps on dry leaves. Gradually, black and white film of a muddy child slowly walking on a despoiled forest lights up the backcloth.
We’re given time to process the image and its possible implications before a dancer, unitard-clad body and face covered in dry mud, bounds onto a circle of light centre-stage, his frenzied movements releasing clouds of dust.
It’s an explosive and gripping start for a show that relies on Colker’s trademark high-energy unflagging movement, seamlessly combining elements from contemporary dance, ritual gestures from deeper Brazilian culture and the powerful leaps and twists of the fighting dance, capoeira.
The stage fills with the company's fourteen dancers, all similarly mud-covered: we’re told in the programme notes they are the so-called ‘crab people,’ who have to survive in an unforgiving environment.
The arresting film continuously evolving on the backcloth comes from the Brazilian filmmaker Cláudio Assis. Its graphic images take us on a voyage through Brazil’s North East: long stretches of what was once forest cut down to phantasmagorical landscapes of naked tree stumps; a riverbed where caked dry mud remains; and sequences where the slow, majestic Capibaribe River still runs.
Later still there’s an extended and hypnotic shot of a man petting a python, human and reptile in seeming harmony – a suggestion, perhaps, of the possibility of harmless coexistence?
For the first part of the evening, the soundtrack includes passages from Melo Neto’s poem, in both English and Portuguese; not so that you can pick up every word or even follow entire sentences, but adding to the atmosphere where a key word or two stand out.
Where dancing, film and soundtrack coalesce, Dog Without Feathers is impressive and transporting indeed, a worthy winner of the International Prix Benois de la Danse 2018.
However, and for all the contagious energy of those superb dancers, bodies so flexible as to appear boneless, at times the narrative was unclear, and Cláudio Assis’ compelling film acted like a magnet, inexorably drawing your attention away from the stage.
There were moments when we were left wondering: who, for example, were the three women who appeared mid-show in pointe shoes (everyone else was in soft shoes throughout) and performed a slower, liquid choreography? Water nymphs? Did it matter?
Around the 50 minute mark the choreography started to feel a little too one-note, leaving you wishing for judicious cuts in the piece’s 70 minute length.
Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy and indeed much food for thought in Deborah Colker’s Dog Without Feathers, at its best a vital illustration of how art can portray, and speak directly to humanity’s very pressing concerns.
|What||Deborah Colker Dance Company, Dog Without Feathers Review|
|Where||Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
07 May 19 – 10 May 19, 19:30 Dur.: 70 mins
|Website||Click here to book via the Southbank Centre|