It was fire and ice this weekend at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, in Becket, MA–the Brian Brooks Moving Company at the Doris Duke Theatre on Saturday night, and Companhia Urbana de Dança from Brazil at the Ted Shawn Theatre. Yet for all their differences, the two performances were unified by some common approaches to the human body in space, in motion. The former’s program included Big City (2012), I’m Going to Explode (2007, solo performance by Brian Brooks), Descent (2011), and an excerpt from Motor (2012). The Brazilian group’s program was made up of two longish works: Id: Entidades (2008) and Chapa Quente (2010).
The space of “inspiration” in both performances is the city. Both companies are grounded in an urban sensibility. Brooks leans toward the abstraction of architectural principles in his choreography, in the tension between deconstructing and constructing of demarcated but evolving space as well as the bodies in that space. Sonia Destri Lie, artistic director and choreographer of Companhia Urbana de Dança, incorporates elements of urban forms such as hip hop, Brazilian funk, and elements of house dance into her pieces.
The city is also the domain of movement, and more specifically of walking. It is silly to say that dance relies on movement. Of course it does. But in these two performances movement is conceived as antithetical to the seamless fluidity of classical ballet or even some of earlier examples modern dance. In these two performances, movement is often paired with the idea, the activity, of walking–walking onto the stage, walking away, then coming back, then going away in a seemingly arbitrary way as though the pieces had no beginning or end (as was literally the case with Brooks’ Big City, which begins before the lights are dimmed and the audience is hushed). Of course, in both performances, walking is a major element but not the only one, and not in its more pedestrian ways. Walking is footwork; walking is falling and then rising up again; walking is holding the body up, particularly the arms, the chest, and hands. Walking is also, as Bruce Chatwin has said, the natural human state.
The city is also the site of fragmentation and dissociation, which Brian Brooks’ choreography explores methodically and with the precision of the mathematician, not only in the larger movements on stage but in the details of muscle and joint, fingers and bone. It’s as if the human body is the realm of sculptural (form) and mechanical (process) possibilities that are as innovative as they are daring. In Destri Lie’s work the same human body is also the site of this fragmentation, but here the anxiety and bravura of the incorporated urban dance forms are put to the service of a subtle, fiery solidarity among the seven male and one female dancers.
And that is, at least for someone such as myself who has no formal training in “understanding” dance, the difference of fire and ice, which has cultural, geographic, climatic sources. It is also aesthetic and political, which takes us back to the city: New York as the meta-city of the world, and Rio de Janiero as an “emerging” city–both burdened by disparities of wealth, privilege, race; and in the end both the portals of innovative art forms. ~~
There’s material on-line about both companies, and also about Jacob’s Pillow which, I was pleased to find out, has a strong educational commitment. The two performances were preceded by short, 15-minute (“Pillow Talk”) presentations by dance scholars. Now, I am not a fan of such presentations, but both of these were outstanding in the way they combined information with dance commentary, but leaving an open space for meditation, contemplation, and simple, unadulterated joy!~~