Last night’s performance of ROCCO—the final presentation of White Bird’s 2014 “Uncaged” season—left quite an impact. Emio Greco and Peter C. Scholten are Dutch choreographers and long time collaborators. They put together a wild performance, inspired by Rocco and his Brothers, a 1960 Italian crime drama. The film was pre-screened several days ago, but sadly, I did not attend that.
The stage is a boxing ring and a good portion of the audience is on stage. Although it could be done without a ringside audience, it is a smart touch, especially by Sarah Toor, White Bird’s publicist who issues my tickets. Knowing I would be writing, she did not tell me I would be on the stage, and it gave me a complete experience to share with you. Firstly, if you’re thinking of going, I would recommend it.
While audience members trickle in to their seats, two boxers—red shorts and blue shorts—sit proudly in their respective corners, smoking cigarettes. There is a warning in my program that herbal cigarettes are in use for the performance. The hype begins with a countdown followed by two more boxers, dressed all in black tights, head to toe, wearing mouse masks. It is them that hype themselves to the ring before the boxers we’ve been looking at for ten minutes get out of their seats.
The music, with banging beats and some silliness from the mice, sets a humorous tone. I brace myself for a lively, entertaining, somewhat slapstick battle. I suspect not much dance will really happen. But it changes on a dime. The initial showboating from the mice abruptly becomes an elegant dance between the boxers. The music stops and a central light shines on red and blue. Microtones, high pitched oscillations gently pierce resounding silence while tense gestures unfold in a powerful ballet.
In layers, the personality of these four entities begin to shed. At first, the boxers are performing an intricate, technical dance. As a ballet in the boxing ring, there is sweet science that perhaps non-sports fans get to see, while boxing fans perhaps see something equally beautiful when they watch boxing matches. Without even making contact, for the most part, the sparring match is very contentious. This part is characterized by unison steps in a mirrored formula. Fear and trepidation is conveyed through shakes and weird pivots. They sometimes break apart but it is all about unified movement.
When the round ends, the mice step in. Music shifts up once again, the match picks up steam. The boxers sit in their corners where the mice had been warming their seats. It becomes evident that there are actually just two entites and the mice represent the dark side, or unconscious side of the boxers. While they spar with fancy technical maneovours (the boxers) the mice take over with more emotionally charged intimidation and erratic moves. They perform a similarly remarkable dance however but with more personal variation and less cooperation.
The music is almost frenetic, almost, things are still precise. There is a hi-hat cymbal solo, reminding me of Steve Smith’s raga percussion performance last month at the Schnitz. Layers begin to shed, music becomes heavier. The masks come off and these mice are good lookin’ men with sparkling pants, no shirt. (It’s rare I get to say this because I have never seen a completely male company before.) As the unconscious entities become more riled up, the boxers join them and everyone is engaged.
If you have never watched Cascious Clay vs. Sonny Liston or Mohammed Ali vs. George Foreman, it is kind of like that. The psychological layers begin to peel off by round four, when they have tested their technical repertiore. By the end, it’s purely psychological warfare as the match takes its toll. It also comments on the element of homo-eroticism to boxing. No boxing fans like it when they keep hugging, but that always happens, kind of ironically. Despite their desire to kill each other, there is always this looming attraction as if at any time they might kiss.
Something fun happens toward the end. The soundscape becomes a hype anthem backed by live audience sounds. The audience is triggered automatically to begin cheering and clapping while the men take one side each of the big square ring. I observe people realizing they have no idea why they are clapping. I am not sure if that is a practical joke or not. Either way, it is interactive by design.
The finale is strong, but like a film, it is for you to watch for yourself. I will compare it to the final sound of a drum pattern being looped and pushed out of phase, so that well ordered notes become disjointed and truly frenetic. The event is full of impressive work and comic release, with a musical journey to match for an enthralling composite. Go see this.