Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker’s show is inspired by João Cabral’s 1950 poem Dog Without Feathers, which links the image of the sluggish Capibaribe River with the people who live by it. Colker and her company visited that river in north-east Brazil and created a dance saturated with the sounds, landscape, animals, plants and people they found there.
The piece is dominated by Cláudio Assis’s black-and-white film projection, with its startling images of a boat dragged over a dry river bed, of a burning crop field, a rusted factory, thick forests, a shanty town – all intermittently populated by the loin-clothed figures of the dancers themselves, their skin and hair caked with mud. On stage, the dancers are costumed to similar effect: hair matted, leotards the texture of soil. They seem to have come from the earth itself.
In the many set pieces that follow, the dancers often cling close to the ground, lunging, squatting and scuttling, heads held poised like birds on a branch, limbs sent out like feelers, or legs splayed like a frog’s. Sometimes they form many-limbed entanglements, like mating insects; elsewhere they curve and cross as thickly as mangrove roots.
It is rich imagery, with the human figure shown as emergent from the animal and elemental worlds and at the same time destructive of them; it is impossible not to think of deforestation, or the recent toxic mudslides of central Brazil. Yet for all its vividness and the lithe dynamism of its dancers, the piece lacks impetus. The score is scattershot, and the work feels like being shown an album of photos from someone else’s incredible trip: you know it’s amazing, but it still wears you out.