If sport in general has often been compared to drama, you might compare boxing in particular – with its nifty footwork, duet form, staging of agility as much as prowess – to dance. Such likenesses lie at the heart of Rocco, by Dutch company Emio Greco | PC (the “PC” is for Pieter C Scholten, choreographer Greco’s long-standing directorial collaborator). The stage is turned into a boxing ring, two bare-chested men in opposing corners and the audience seated round all sides. The fight, when it begins, features another pair, cased in black, sporting Mickey Mouse masks, whose cartoonish antics to oompah music remind us that this contest, like a circus, is a staged entertainment.
The bell dings – as it does periodically throughout – and their act is over. It’s time for the boxers. In silence, they spiral away from each other in careful leans and twists, mirroring but never facing each other. This opposition without engagement certainly racks up anticipation, but the sequence is overextended and scuppered by the confusing intrusion of a child’s sing-song voice.
The main drama, it turns out, is with the Mickey Mouses. They go several rounds together, each time discarding a layer of clothing, as if progressively exposing their selves (the layer they keep, though, is spangled tights: pure circus). The balletic bouts of speedy steps, jabbed limbs and torqued torsos are choreographed in strict rotational symmetry and tied to the arrhythmic jitters of a percussive score. The dancers’ mutual singularity of focus and their contained but sustained physicality carry a dangerous erotic charge, but it is more dampened than deepened by the camp “interval entertainment”, in which the other pair lip-synch to a cheesily romantic chanson. Rocco is strong on mood and atmosphere, but its wavering tone and intent means that its best punches aren’t always best placed.