Help! I’m having kinesthetic traumas. Tuesday night, Brooklyn: I’m watching a company from Brazil perform two works by its director, Rodrigo Pederneiras. Wednesday night, Manhattan: Emanuel Gat’s France-based Israeli company presents his K626. On both occasions, I begin to feel myself one of the dancers, trapped in a choreographic prison of repetition from which I’ll never get out, no matter how hard I bang myself against the floor.
Obviously, the actual dancers don’t feel this way. The sleek acrobats of Pederneiras’s Grupo Corpo and Gat’s sturdy, heavy-footed laborers look as if they could gladly do whatever’s asked of them for hours on end. In the former’s 2007 Breu, for instance, dancers lie supine and, using one planted foot for propulsion, slide backward along the floor and push slightly off it, so that for a second or two they form a diagonal slash, with their toes the highest point. Then they flop like fish and do it again. When audiences at both events applaud feverishly, they seem to be cheering the valor of the dancers as much as—or more than—the choreography.
Breu and the 1998 Benguelê—but especially the latter, with its score by João Bosco—draw on Afro-Brazilian rhythms and dances, as well as more contemporary styles. In both works, the Grupo Corpo members spend most of their time in profile. Pederneiras is a formalist: In Benguelê, he obsesses over the notion of traveling—conflating rituals, processions, and diaspora. The dancers saunter along, hands on hips, adding a high kick or a jumped turn. They skitter across the stage with a low, loose, bent-over skip that looks very African. They undulate and sway their hips as they go. A duet by Helbert Pimenta and Edson Hayzer channels the combative skills of capoeira: Pattern begets pattern and repeats of same. One man—Pimenta, I think—walks hunched over as if he were tracking something. Seconds later, everyone’s doing it. The set by Fernando Velloso and Paulo Pederneiras incorporates a high runway across the back. When dancers in precise unison travel on two levels, you could be watching moving wallpaper.
Breu is a more powerful work, and Freusa Zechmeister’s black-and-white unitards in various geometrical patterns are a knockout, as is the fierce, drastic score by Lenine (winner of two Latin Grammy Awards). Here again, the choreographer has abstracted his vision, compressing a dark world of aggressors and victims into killingly arduous, primarily two-dimensional designs. Women “walk” seated, propelled by men crawling behind them (later they do this backward). People progress belly-up, on their hands and feet. They fall and lie there while others pass them. They stand and stare. Cassilene Abranches slowly, voluptuously moves her hips while others dive and crash around her. Flávia Couret and João Vicente tangle uncomfortably on the floor like demented octopi. They’re all terrific, with Edson Beserra especially galvanic. Their accomplishment moves me more than Pederneiras’s factory-precise image of doom.
Emanuel Gat is also a fiend for repetition. He offers taut, blunt, compressed moves and an array of small, finicky gestures in endless alteration. His black-clad soldiers, however, unlike Pederneiras’s dancers, are rarely displayed in flat processions. They clump and cluster, burst out and regroup against the Joyce’s bare, brick back wall. The music is Mozart’s great Requiem Mass in D Minor (in a 1984 recording by Christopher Hogwood that eliminates some sections not wholly attributed to Mozart). As I watch, my eyes and ears go to war. While the music soars and weeps and sings in triumph and subsides into an enveloping calm, the eight dancers in their long black tunics and pants go about their business, acknowledging only the basic beat—and not always that. The piece might as well have been set to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I wasn’t hoping for piety, but I was counting on the choreographer for musicality. Gat, who once mated salsa with Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps,” has created a vocabulary for the entire 45-minute work and spooled it out in various ways, some of which are interesting—at least until the ears rebel and the eyes tire of the sameness.
Play that Mozart music in your head. Now try to envision people carefully moving their shoulders up and down, swaying their hips, wiping their lips, and patting their faces as if staring into a bathroom mirror, wiggling their fingers, planting both feet, and scootching across the floor, or jolting from one foot to the other like watchful basketball guards. To the thunderous “Dies Irae,” tall Noa Shavit introduces a powerful pumping of the body that suggests vomiting or a struggle to utter what can’t be said. Roy Assaf hops sideways across the stage, holding one foot; others copy him.
There are few indications of grief or elation. Twice, Assaf stands trembling and collapsing in increments. In one resonant passage, Lise Tiller (a wonderfully strong, fluent dancer) holds Noa Gimelshtein in her arms, staring stoically into the distance as Gimelshtein slips to the floor, climbs up again, falls again. Some of the most moving moments occur when the dancers stand and wait.
Certainly Gat is adept at manipulating space. Almost in defiance of the dogged, thudding, evenly paced movement texture, he leads your gaze in and out of clusters, makes your eyes dart here or there, causes you to focus on various of the strong, committed dancers: Alexis Jestin, Mia Alon, Maeva Berthelot, David Gernez, Gimelshtein, Tiller, Shavit, and Assaf. The audience claps vigorously, and some fervent spectators rise to their feet. Dancing as ordeal. Bravo the survivors! These performers aren’t as slick as Pederneiras’s, but they execute every move with skill and ardor. The choreography may trample Mozart, but possibly, inside their heads, his music is singing.
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