Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker’s Dog Without Feathers (Cão Sem Plumas) at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater though Saturday is a small spectacle, but it’s a powerful spectacle and one with substance and a menacing kind of beauty.
Created by company founder Deborah Colker, the piece is performed by 14 dancers who for an hour and ten minutes move in extraordinary ways to tell the story of the Capibaribe River region, a historically and agriculturally important waterway that winds its way through Pernambuco State in the Northeast part of Brazil.
Most of the people who live near or on the banks of the Capibaribe are impoverished and Colker’s dancers writhe and stalk across the stage in the first section like angry organisms seen under a microscope – moving individually then suddenly converging as one – as if they are the embodiment of a forgotten and exhausted people.
In flesh colored unitards mottled with muddy-looking blotches, the dancers’ bodies mimic a parched river bed representing the river’s dry season. They clap their hands together, releasing the dust of drought that then surrounds them in a cloud of earthy halos in a way that warns of environmental danger.
Then the rains come. Silky streamers descend from the theater’s rafters and dancers wrap and unwrap themselves in a dreamy scene that provides some relief from the threat of a waterless world.
Later, three women in point shoes appear and with gorgeous birdlike movements (Colker is channeling the choreographer William Forsythe’s style of movement here) illustrate the grace of the river, but also show us something more sinister: the one-percenters of the region who pay no mind to the desperate and needy around them.
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Colker, a Brazilian who started the internationally acclaimed company in 1994, has said she did not intend Dog Without Feathers to be political, but she admits that’s what it became once the choreography came together and because of the film that is projected onto the backdrop showing the river in various seasons. We see the stilted shacks that house the poor who eke out a living on the river and the surrounding area, the depleted looking forest during the dry months, the mangrove swamp during the wet season.
“It is a spectacle of inconceivable things, which should never be permitted,” says Colker when she is describing the suffering in the region. “It is against human ignorance. We destroy nature, children, and everything that is full of life.”
Dog Without Feathers
closes October 20, 2018
Details and tickets
Despite the beauty, drama, and mystery of Dog Without Feathers, there are some aspects of the performance that are distracting. Colker and her dancers spent nearly a month traveling throughout the region and immersing themselves in the lives of the people who live there while the film maker, Claudio Assis, shot the dancers and the region’s inhabitants in different settings.
Assis’s film is projected on a scrim behind the dancers and while his stark visuals sometimes enhance what the dancers are doing, most other times the film pulls focus away from the power of the dancing happening on stage. More to the point it is an irritant and at times I kept wishing the film would stop so I could see more of what Colker’s extraordinary dancers were doing.
One aspect that is not distracting is the music. Created by Jorge Dü Peixe, and Berna Ceppas, the music is electronic and industrial with a heavy base sound that is interspersed with the subtlest of Brazilian beats. The music fits perfectly with the high octane, muscular yet graceful dancing.
Colker’s drama of sound and movement kept reminding me that she is after all a showman at heart. She has choreographed for such extravaganzas as Cirque du Soleil, a performance for the 2006 World Cup, and the opening show for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The woman knows how to use dance to entice and enthrall an audience whether it’s in huge arenas or on a small stage like the Eisenhower’s. While Dog Without Feathers is indeed making a political statement, it’s one worth seeing, and especially right now.
Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker Dog Without Feathers (Cão Sem Plumas), performing at the Kennedy Center’s Eishenhower Theater through October 20. Featuring choreography by Deborah Colker; musical direction by Jorge Dü Peixe, Berna Ceppas, with vocals by Lirinha; cinematography by Claudio Assis; costumes by Claudia Kopke; sets by Gringo Cardia; lighting design by Jorginho De Carvalho. Reviewed by Maria Di Mento.