Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker’s Dog Without Feathers, inspired by Joao Cabral de Melo Neto’s poem of the same name, concerns the Capibaribe river in the north-east of Brazil: its mud, mangroves and those who live by it, both human and animal.
All are threatened by the gross inequalities and destructive force of capitalism and climate change, starkly depicted in sections of black and white film by Cláudio Assis. There are unforgettable images of a parched landscape, cracked like paint, or a child walking through the dried-out river bed, and a waterside shanty town on stilts. Less effective are the sequences that show the company’s dancers ponderously writhing in situ, which, along with recorded passages of the poem and a thumping electronic soundscape, often draw attention away from the live performance.
Strikingly clad in mud-caked bodystockings, the 14 lithe dancers move with an evocatively dense quality: limbs and trunks crosshatch and sprout in a mangrove tangle, with bare toes splayed in tree-frog fashion. Weighted, creaturely contortions and crab-like scuttles are suddenly punctuated by split leaps and flips, or the staccato pointe-work of a haughtily preening bird.
While all this laudably highlights the interconnectedness of natural habitat and human life, the more extreme acrobatic stylings soon become a little tedious. However physically impressive, a bombardment of over-split legs don’t necessarily speak to the soul.
As Colker’s work pitches its performers into ever-more gymnastic situations atop precarious favela-like structures, the connection across the footlights seems to wane. Ultimately wearisome, it’s more spectacle than poetical.