“You’ve faked so many feelings
in your time you wonder
if it could have been
the ghost of faked feelings
offering you an authentic sadness,
-Stephen Dunn, “The Song”
Before seeing this – and all thanks go to a friend for passing off the tickets she was too busy to use – I was only vaguely aware of choreographer Bruno Beltran and his Brazilian group Grupo de Rua. And this show, on a miserable, bitterly cold Sunday affirmed so much of what I love about dance while still ducking the grasp of my conceptions, pre- and otherwise.
Beltran’s eight dancers came out to no backing track in a well-lit section of the stage, a rectangle in front of the unfinished backstage you can see in the dark. They break off into duets with no music at all, two move together,then one or both leave and others rotate in but it feels conversational, almost colloquial, it doesn’t feel staged, it’s so well-choreographed it doesn’t seem choreographed. And this section – which continues with no music at all, already taking the audience out of their “hip-hop dance” comfort zone – starts out structured like a break dancing battle but the moves you’d expect breakers to come out of their two-step into are abbreviated, chopped up, the hit doesn’t come where you expect it to.
As music starts to show up, it’s solo distorted drums, and they’re not directly following the beat. Nothing new, but done as well as I’ve seen it done. Through the sections the music turns to techno then back to silence then back to the solo drums until all the musical elements come together in the frenetic finale, the musical bed of hip-hop dance deconstructed and put back together with just enough pieces perfectly out of place to be interesting.
There’s also a sensuality that starts to creep in, an eroticism. as the all-male dance troupe touch and immediately bounce off each other and their moves echo – but don’t directly mirror – each other. Bodies in motion in a celestial sense – orbits, flares, the explosion of a supernova turning into a black hole – and in motion in the sense of just people relating to each other on a physical level and how that conceals or brings out the emotion maybe you don’t even have words to describe, or you’d be too embarrassed to say.
Part of what makes this so interesting is that the hour-long piece broken up into sections, is so cohesive that doesn’t come from a narrative or recurring themes except in the broadest sense: space that hems us in and gets broken by sheer force of will, how we go past physicality and how it restricts us. Basically, what all dance is about. And if you try to read a story, read the dancers as characters, it’s going to shirk from that scrutiny, and if you’re looking for metaphor I won’t say you can’t find it because I don’t have a vocabulary in dance but it’s certainly not the more obvious metaphor of Twyla Tharp or William Forsythe .
There’s a great joy to the dancing here and when they all move in concert, in looping, swinging motions or drifting offstage there’s some Jerome Robbins amongst the Jerome Bel, it’s theatrical and beautiful and hit every button I have. Thanks to Emily for hooking A and I up with tickets, and to the Wexner Center for continuing to bring this kind of thing to town.