Deborah Colker Shows the Stronger Side of Dance in Mix

Check out our interview with Deborah Colker.

The setup:

On October 12, the Society for the Performing Arts presented Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker's Mix, a dance concert that was first performed in 1996 and has since traveled the globe. Accolades include the 2001 Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Achievement in Dance.

The Execution:

From the first dance segment, aptly titled "Machines," it is clear that as a choreographer, Deborah Colker favors athleticism over every other performance quality. She is, after all, the first woman to direct a show for Cirque du Soleil. Dancers drop into push-up positions and worm across the stage in military formations with no sense of irony; these bodies are machines, and the primary focus is how disciplined the usually undisciplined human physique can be. There's a music video sensibility to the choreography, a quality akin to Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," but with a lot more muscle.

Mix's most captivating segment is "Fashion Show," the only dance that does not rely heavily on strength-based dance skills. The costumes are minimal: simple jackets for the men, and unadorned hoop skirts for the women. The fashion on display is of the flesh-and-bone variety. The dancers strike pose after pose, their dexterous limbs raveling and unraveling in elegant sweeps of hypnotic motion. "Fashion Show" is also a delight in its use of samba and other folk forms. It's the only segment that identifies Deborah Colker's company as one of Brazilian origin; the dancers have such a good time performing their native steps that it might have been nice if Colker had made more extensive use of them.

"Passion" is also another highlight, a dance of complicated love performed to an audio montage of the world's most syrupy archetypal love songs. The partnering in "Passion" is not only complex, but interesting in its lifts, some of which can only be described as acrobatic. The only downside is that like "Machines," the segment shows its age, chiefly in its music selection. R&B grooves and pop power ballads are heavily sampled, which recalls the heyday of MTV.

The show's finale, the much talked about "Mountaineering," does not disappoint. When the curtains open, the audience is faced with a solid, one-dimensional rock wall. As soon as the music starts, the wall is attacked by a volley of dancers. They ascend and descend with quick precision, as if their bodies were built specifically for the task of scaling twentieth-century gym equipment. The formations are razor sharp, and it really is a sight to see the dancers move as a harmonious unit along the flat surface.

In several ways, "Mountaineering" returns Mix back to "Machines" in that it showcases the physical capacity of the human body. Even if we never step foot in a gym again, the audience leaves inspired knowing that if we really wanted to, we could scale Mount Everest.

The Verdict: As a time capsule of '90s themes and movement styles, Mix is a retrograde treat. As a dance work that's being performed in 2012, not all of its pieces hold up well. But what Deborah Colker's company does affirm is that good dance does not always have to be the province of classic lines and pretty choreography.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Adam Castaneda
Contact: Adam Castaneda