Dawn rises slowly over the slag heap where humanity’s less fortunate lie waiting for another day to begin. As the light filters gradually onto the stage of the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, where Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças is performing a dance-theater piece called “Fúria,” Ricardo Xavier’s green face emerges from the darkness. Gangrenous with poverty, he slowly hoists a soiled white flag. His first thought upon waking is to signal his surrender, before life deals the wretched occupants of this encampment another staggering blow.
For what hope do these people have? “Fúria,” the boldly provocative 2018 work that this Brazilian group is presenting as part of the Peak Performances series, plunges us into the lives of those whom society has abandoned. These outcasts have no prospect except to wander ceaselessly in a ragged procession, where, most sadly, they persist in cruelly dominating one another and displaying their vanity — mirroring their oppressors. Ah, human nature!
A disciple of French choreographer Maguy Marin, Rodrigues has an aesthetic rooted in that choreographer’s celebrated work “May B” and its antecedents. Yet Rodrigues’ existentialism is enriched by firsthand experience working among the down-and-out in Brazil’s favelas, and her vision is both colorful and ribald. Some denizens of “Fúria’s” netherworld paint their bodies gold, or blue, and mask themselves to impersonate gods. More than theater of the absurd, then, “Fúria” is a work of magic realism in which burlesque chorus lines and Christian penitents appear, along with suggestions of Candomblé ritual.
Then there are the episodes of apparently joyless rutting — the compulsive diddling, shaking and thrusting as waves of sexual frenzy overtake the camp. During a quiet moment, when the group is resting, Carolina Repetto’s naked buttocks stand up waiting, with her panties pulled down. A tempting offer seemingly made to any random passerby, this woman’s protruding bush might also be a grave marker.
Stillness is rare, however, in this gradually evolving processional set against a background recording of drumming, calls and whistles from New Caledonia. As they progress around the stage, Rodrigues’ dancers are continually dressing and undressing, often baring it all as we pass from one phantasmagoric image to another. In this parade some get to ride, while others are ridden. Raquel Alexandre is dragged away by the ass, her face contorted tearfully and her hands raking the ground. A man apparently half-dead clings to a totemic pyramid of bodies that advances slowly across the stage. Is he afraid he will be crushed if he falls, or does he fear being left behind?
When times are good, Alexandre reclines voluptuously on the shoulders of two men, and waves at us with an expression of hieratic calm. When times are bad, Larissa Lima is on the ground, where Felipe Vian strangles and kicks her.
Although “Fúria” is preeminently an ensemble piece requiring maximum trust of its performers, it closes with a solo. Leonardo Nunes steps forward to deliver a rambling speech with gestural flourishes, yet only a few place names (“Senegal,” “Cuba,” “USA”) and a few accusatory pronouns (“You,” “He,” “She”) can be understood. Are we the baaing sheep whose throats will be cut, when the spirit of anarchism finally gets loose, when fireworks go off, and when the streets run red and black just as dyes now stain the stage? Since the whole world is becoming a sacrifice zone, we should seriously consider the possibility.
Nunes’ own solution is to escape, fleeing up the aisle. For most of us, however, escape is not an option.
Remaining performances of Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças’ “Fúria,” presented by Peak Performances at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4, 8 p.m. Nov. 5, and 3 p.m. Nov. 6. Visit peakperfs.org.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.