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Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker

'4 Por 4':  ‘Corners,’ ‘Table,’ ‘Some People,’ ‘The Girls,’   ‘Vases'

Artistic Fusion at the Barbican

by Cassandra

COmpanhia de Danca Deborah ColkerDecember 2003 -- Barbican Theatre, London

The works presented in Deborah Colker’s “4 por 4” could not be more different and her originality is quite staggering. The opening work, “Corners”, is just that – a set of corners of a room with two walls complete with skirting board and a triangle of floor. Each corner is occupied by a beautiful girl in a stunning, clingy dress and stiletto heels, each at first dancing alone, stretching against the walls and confidently inhabiting her own space. Eventually they are joined by the boys, some entering around the corners, others descending from above, and in one case, just a pair of male arms appearing through a crack, clasping the girl in an amorous embrace before pulling her slowly through the crack, making her disappear completely. With some choreographers, this might be interpreted as a study in isolation, but these girls are far too self-assured and too much at home in their corners to ever be described as lonely.

The second piece of the evening “Table” was a real oddity as a strange table/trolley of Heath Robinson appearance slowly progresses across the front of the stage. The tabletop is on some kind of roller causing the dancers on top of the table to be constantly moving backwards. A near naked man is perched above the wheels and between the table legs, eventually emerging to join the couple on top. I found something clinical about this, a cross between a hospital trolley and an operating table perhaps.

“Some People” the last work in the first half had a vividly painted backdrop of disembodied heads and genitalia, in front of which the dancers cavorted clutching their crotches like Michael Jackson and then smelling the palms of their hands. A bit of a “yuk” factor actually, but the dancers performed this so merrily that it was difficult to really take offence. There was a brightly painted floor cloth too, but from my seat in the stalls I couldn’t make out what it depicted: probably more of the same.

A moment of unexpected drama occurred at the beginning of the second half when the rising curtain also raised one side of the grand piano at which Deborah Colker was sitting. A pair of burly stagehands rushed forward uttering expletives in their alarm, but Colker kept her professional cool and after some readjustment of the piano’s position the show went on.

“The Girls” is performed to Colker’s playing of a Mozart sonata with the dancers donning their point shoes for some slightly quirky classicism clearly inspired wholly by the music. As the eponymous girls dance in the foreground, other dancers enter behind them, each carrying a vase to be placed carefully at regular intervals across the stage, and after the removal of the piano we move seamlessly in to the final work of the evening.

“Vases” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, a coming together of dancers and props in a manner that is quite unique. As the dancers perform daringly between the uniform lines of pots, a host of glittering slender pendulums descend from above changing the landscape of the stage. Whereas before the dancers danced between, now they are also dancing below. The pendulums descend still further, each entering the necks of the pots with perfect precision and creating sharply defined aisles for the dancers to negotiate, requiring even more skill and accuracy than before. Presumably there is some sort of magnet inside each vase as they slowly start to ascend allowing the dancers to perform underneath the suspended pots.

It all looked utterly gorgeous and the audience’s standing ovation showed that I wasn’t the only one to be bowled over by such a compellingly lovely work. A real fusion of the arts. The Turner Prize has been awarded for less.

“Rota”, Deborah Colker’s second programme at the Barbican, showed just as clearly as the first that she is totally enamoured of props. The first half though, was danced without any – just happy dancers performing with their unique warm-heartedness to a classical score in very free movement, simply responding to the score.

In the second act the props were introduced: ladders/climbing frames on either side of a huge wheel that dominated the centre of the stage. The wheel was rotated by the dancers who clung to the outside and swing on the spokes inside. They leaped onto the wheel singly, in couples and in groups, making it look the easiest thing in the world when it fact it clearly requires perfect timing. While one group performed on the wheel, other dancers climbed the ladders at the side, using the rungs as support as they curved and swung making a frame for their colleagues in the centre.

Perhaps Deborah Colker was inspired by the medieval concept of the “Wheel of Fortune”, one of the pictures on a tarot card with Fortune raising the fortunate up and hurling the unlucky down (the idea behind the opening and closing of Carl Orff’s famous “Carmina Burana”). Others might see hamsters in their exercise wheel, but the finale with each dancer curled onto the outside of the wheel to the strains of a Strauss waltz, must surely have been a reference to the giant Ferris wheel in the Prater in Vienna made famous by the film “The Third Man”. It certainly looked a spectacular finish.

Edited by Jeff

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