Philly dance fans were ringside for the fights last weekend on Columbus Ave. for Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten’s Rocco, an exhibition of choreographic pugilism. Greco and Scholten are directors of the innovative Netherlands based troupe International Choreographic Arts Centre (ICKamsterdam) FringeArts producer Nick Stuccio first presented the choreographers Dantesque opus Hell, as a Fringe centerpiece in 2006.
Rocco may be smaller in scale, but proved equally compelling, with and had a lot to say choreographically and as potent dance-theater. The quartet of dancers—Dereck Cayla, Quentin Dehaye, Edward Lloyd and Arnaud Macquet—deliver not only a one-two punch it is lands more than one technical knock outs that leave you on the choreographic canvas trying to get your bearings.
On the periphery, Greco and Scholten pay glancing homage to director Luchino Visconti’s homoerotic 50s film classic Rocco and His Brothers, ostensibly about the boxing world exploitation and sibling rivalry in post-WWII Italy.
No back-story is necessary for the gritty atmospherics of Rocco to kick right in as the audience files in to Macquet and Dehaye already in their corners in satin trunks, sizing each other up with rakish stares and each smoking cigarettes, the plumes of smoke dramatically hovering in the slashing noir lighting designs by Paul Beumer. The first bell goes off, but instead of the fight beginning, two figures in black body socks and tight rubber mouse masks spring around the outside of the ring and jab, hop and dance around the audience.
Just as suddenly a shaft of light pierces the center of the ring, with Macquet and Dehaye, facing off head to head, they bow their bodies in forensic physiques poses, reminiscent of Rodin bronzes, studies in anatomy and psyche, muscled, but vulnerable. Their legs reaching blindly out of the spot on perilous footing or their hands are bent like beaks, cocked at the wrists, rather than clenched in a fist. At several points, they circle each other in avian (cockfight) struts. The choreography starts to build a physiologic vocabulary that is sensorial, mysterious and completely unpredictable. Meanwhile, a haunted French rendition of a child-singing do, ray, mi, that hovers in the air.
The fight spotlight widens as the fighters’ competitiveness and camaraderie is translated into body language and their eyes locked on each other communicating myriad emotions. This intensity builds as the movement patterns get more violent and dance expressive. Whether they end up in their own fight zone or cleaved together. At the end of one round, they fling themselves on Cayla and Lloyd, still in mousy ‘shadow’ boxers’ personas. At one point, the music shifts to a baroque aria and the mouse men pause to do a knockout French school centre barre with most elegant releve and batterie.
Macquet and Dehaye exit unexpectedly and the tone shifts to darker territory. Cayla and Lloyd spar and jab around the ring, they take corners and strip off the masks and their protective shadow skins. Their physicality and choreography is completely different in more direct and brutal match-up of fight choreography fluidly weaved together with refined movement. All of the fight rhythms are there and the soundtrack gets more concussive and in their heads, at one point sounding like a metallic cyclone with cats calling.
Their eyes locked on each other and as stoic as they appear, aggression and tenderness roil as subtexts as they move in hairpin limb interlocks that give way to faltering skips, lunges and pirouettes. A pause in the action brings on Dehaye, posing as a between round showgirl striking fleshy poses and Macquet, hair slicked back and in a leather jacket, they end the scene in a passionate kiss, sweeping away veiled homo-eroticism, for overt sexuality, however sidelined.
The choreographers carve out the psychological terrain unlocking a primal physicality. An expose of adrenaline rush of performance and the virtual theater of confrontation is a sharp edge that these performers define as they powerfully strip away theatrical artifice.
As with Greco and Scholten’s explorations with ‘Hell’, the scenario is both narrative and cryptic, and displays their liberated choreographic template. Rocco is danced with full-throttle conviction and precision by the dancers. The final round has Cayla, Dehaye, Macquet and Lloyd in a ring rondo of swagger and triumphal finale of choreographic fireworks. Rocco took the 2012 Golden Swan award for the most impressive dance production from the Dutch Association of Theatre Venues, in lieu of the Golden Gloves, deserve the bantam, if not the heavyweight dance-belt in Philly. [FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] February 27-28, 2015; fringearts.org.