by Donald Hutera
Gertrude Stein, interviewed on American radio in the 1930s, was asked about the need for a work of art to be understood. “If you enjoy it you understand it” was her simple and priceless response. I wonder what Stein would have made of Deborah Colker. This exuberant Brazilian choreographer is a major player in the cultural landscape of her native country. There her dances have wracked up audience figures of 200,000, drawn from all ages and all walks of life. How many other choreographers can you think of who can boast of a nine-week run, as Colker’s work has enjoyed in her home town of Rio de Janeiro?
Colker’s popularity has global dimensions. Her eponymous troupe has wowed London audiences with Rota and the Olivier-winning Mix. The first culminated with the dancers spinning like happy, handsome hamsters on a giant wheel. The second, a heady grab-bag of stylistic and thematic juxtapositions, climaxed with a stunning climbing-wall set-piece.
Casa, which is showing in Umbrella as part of the Barbican’s BITE:02 season, spotlights body architecture, the acrobatics of relationships and the accommodations people sharing a space must make in order to fit into each other’s lives. The cunning jungle-gym of a domestic set was inspired by Colker’s own multi-level dwelling, while the movement material is derived from universally familiar activities like cooking and eating, sleeping, fighting, dressing and undressing, and having sex.
If the dance world ran contests for Most Vivid Personality, Colker would have scant competition for top prize. A small, blazingly confident blonde of Russian-Jewish extraction, she is the only choreographer I have ever heard hailed with bravos after a post-show Q&A session. With a smile as ravenous as her appetite for culture, she’s a human tidal wave of enthusiasm and curiosity about life and dance and the myriad intersections possible between the two. “I am like an old woman,” she declares, “but also a little girl. I want to play with serious matters.”
The serious matters include physics, domesticity, fashion, aesthetics, sports, space, energy, breath and emotions, and that’s just for starters. But the point of Colker’s dances, and the key to their appeal, is less heavy-duty concepts than high accessibility. They’re loaded with visual imagination and kinetic daring, yet at the same time thoroughly grounded in a recognisable reality.
“If you are not a person with a vision of the world in your head,” she says, “you can’t be a choreographer. My work is like Brazil - the mix of colors, the dynamics and rhythms, the happiness and possibility of a long way of discovery. It’s a little history we have. Five hundred years. People think there are still monkeys in the streets, alligators and Indians. Okay, it’s a Third World country. But it’s an honor to me that my influence is this beautiful, creative, strange place, with its music, and the misery living alongside the rich. “I’m very ambitious,” Colker continues, “but not for money. I want my work to be seen.” Viewing her dances as “motion in search of entertainment” and “sensation with intelligence,” she remains a model of how intertwined person is with place. “Brazil is like me: never tired. At the same time, people here know how to sit and see the ocean and feel the wind. It’s a very intelligent moment to understand such a simple thing. It’s a genius, like Fred Astaire dancing. Yes, it’s the same. I can’t say more.” Don’t bet on it.
WHO: CIA DE DANCA DEBORAH COLKER
WHEN: TUE 8 - SAT 12 OCT
WHERE: BARBICAN THEATRE
ON SALE: NOW! £5 - £26
TICKETS: 020 7638 8891
This interview was posted by Stuart Sweeney on behalf of Donald Hutera and first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.
Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.
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