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Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker - 'Nó'

Deborah Colker Ties Daring Knots

by Ana Paula Höfling

September 25, 2005 -- Teatro Alfa, São Paulo, Brazil

The Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, a contemporary dance company based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, brings its latest evening-length work to São Paulo after its German premiere earlier this year.  In “Nó” (“knot” in Portuguese), Deborah Colker, in collaboration with her long-time set designer Gringo Cardia -- who provides the dancers with a stunning bundle of hanging ropes of different diameters, colors and textures -- explores the idea of tying someone or being tied up, with direct references to the practice of bondage. (In fact, a Google search of the work leads to sites with information about BDSM—bondage, dominance and sadomasochism.)

The first act, entitled “Cordas” (ropes), begins with a man carefully but firmly tying a woman’s wrists behind her neck.  A hanging rope tied around her ankle raises her right leg, spreading her legs as she leans her weight on the rope. Another woman is also tied up and both women hang from the ceiling, their legs coiled under them as they spin slowly, a moment that avoids becoming a mere aerial circus stunt because Colker’s bondage exploration is well-researched and focused.   The spinning women don’t struggle against the ropes; the tying is consensual, and they surrender to the pleasure of being tied up.

In the following section of “Cordas,” red ropes briefly become whips and blindfolds, and new knots connect the dancers in counter-balances and partnering charged with sexual tension.  Dancers fluidly weave in and out of trios and quartets loaded with images of group sex. In the last section, the bundle of ropes is finally untied, and the lighting design by Jorginho de Carvalho turns the ropes into hot metal pouring from above onto three dancers center stage who have tied themselves, without ropes this time, into an impossible knot of limbs.

The second half of the evening, entitled “Vitrine” (display window), loses the focus achieved in “Cordas.”  According to a program note, “Vitrine” is inspired by the sex workers who display themselves in windows in the red light district in Amsterdam.  With that image in mind—women sitting alone behind glass waiting for their next customer—the curtain opens to Colker herself inside a glass box (open on top, with ladders on all four corners) while a recorded voice sings ironically, “My One and Only Love.”  Colker, a powerhouse of a performer now in her ‘40s, caresses her face, traces the outline of her breasts with her fingertips and blows a kiss toward the audience.  These simple but poignant gestures are quickly left behind as Colker climbs out of the box and surrounds it in a solo that invokes a kind of freedom that seems to ignore (rather than contrast with) the enclosed nature of the display window.

Too soon, the whole company is on stage climbing in and out of the box as if they had springs on their feet, in a display of virtuosity and athleticism that struggles to transcend its physicality and establish communication with the audience. Colker’s unique use of pointe work in such a contemporary context is a mark of her post-modern heritage, but becomes lost in this unfocused second act. In a too-brief moment of simplicity, a man and a woman “partner” through the glass in an intimate duet bordering on despair.

Colker’s company of 16 deserves special praise for their impeccable performance in “Nó”—they are experienced performer-athletes who take over the stage with confidence and precision.   Colker’s work as a whole is bold and daring, dealing with subject matter—our most intimate sexual fantasies—few other choreographers would dare to tackle.

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