Cia de Dana Deborah Colker: Cruel @ Barbican Theatre, London

choreographed by
Deborah Colker
Hailing from Brazil, Cia de Dana Deborah Colker, after many UK stops, finally arrives in London to present its latest full-length feature, Cruel.

Cruel is an exploration of human conditions, and nowhere is this more evident than the social dance event of the fist half. This concept of human emotions appears to be primarily conveyed through love: for one couple, from the way their gazes are locked to each others, and their arms reach for one another, we sense a feeling of complete devotion.<
However, Cruel is mostly fascinated by the more negative side of what it is to be human. Thus we see someone left behind as the others pair up on the dancefloor, she longing to find someone as the poison of jealousy runs deep inside, grabbing men from their partners, only to be brutally rejected. Or the couple who slowly becomes closer, but gradually the relationship turns abusive, as he pushes and shoves her along with others, ignoring her pleading arms.

The first half is a mish-mash – a touch of Latin, a hint of 20s swing styles, with an injection of adoring playfulness. The flustered women fan themselves with their hands and imitate their pounding hearts; the men slap their thighs in anticipation.

But Cruels score, directed by Berna Ceppas, is not as simple as it initially suggests. Before the audience is settled into the niceties of the strings section, the music explodes into a pumping, gritty soundtrack of breakbeat and drum and bass, with the strings melody layered on top.

The choreography responds in perfect synchronicity with this fusion, as Jaime Bernardes and Daniel Calvet perform with pure, balletic classicism against the backdrop of this music. Rather than look out of place, as tends to happen when ballet is suspiciously crossed with something more street, the pair was the highlight of the show, and its thrilling to see two ballet dancers dance big and dirty as they power through the jumps and pirouettes with masculinity and grace in equal measures.

The focus is unfortunately lost somewhat in the second half, with the use of mirrors representing the notion of memory proving too distracting. This is an issue apparent throughout the piece too much gadgetry and theatrics that are often too distracting, without adding anything meaningful to the overall work. One does not feel Cruel was deeply enhanced by the stacking plates, the knife throwing or the big table that the dancers have to move around themselves.

That said, when the cast is not moving the sets around, there is no denying that the different stage levels created by the table and the mirrors allow for a rich visual experience. The dancers weave in and out of the mirrors seamlessly, leap on, off and under the table, with beautiful arabesques that looked like they stayed mid-air for a lifetime.

Towards the latter half of the dance, we are brought back to the original theme of human relationships. A soundclip cries: I used to be happy again and again, as the sense of bleakness becomes all consuming. At the very end, with a sole person left on stage in front of her own pool of memories, she smiles. Even though we are none the wiser about how she got there, the journey was enjoyable and unpredictable, and we leave smiling too.

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