Playful and hypnotic in all its maximalist splendor, “Ecantado’s” churn of rhythms, patterns, and flesh was a gale of fresh air. In its intricate choreography of bodies and fabric, Rodrigues unleashed an effervescent energy capable of reinventing worlds, over and over again.
Dancers entered and crouched like stagehands behind a long roll of fabric placed upstage. For several silent, meditative minutes they pushed it forward, slowly unrolling it with care. When they were done, they left the stage blanketed with what looked like a giant quilt made from large colorful squares of cloth. Flower motifs met with animal prints, several shades of red, and stripes to create a vivid landscape.
When the dancers returned, one at a time, they were naked and crawled on all fours. Slipping her form under a cheetah print, one woman snaked her body forward while another sat perched like a goddess on a pedestal, gazing upstage. Rolling in sideways or covering up as if with a sheet, each dancer found a new and inventive way to disappear all or part of their body in layers of fabric. Moving deliberately and slow, Rodrigues’s composition stretched and expanded, writhed and contracted, faces obscured in a field of flora and fauna.
Arms in a steeple shape overhead, a dancer stood up, tenting the fabric into a tall, otherworldly presence. A few more rose to standing as a percussive sound seemed to wake their characters up. Crafting fabric into clothes, a man in a turban and long skirt strode downstage. Pushing out his belly, he gave it a rub before letting out a bleeting shriek. Indeed, some dancers took on a preening, animalistic quality as they roused themselves, their faces waking up as much as the rest of their bodies.
There was so much to look at with 11 dancers spread out in various levels, draped in fabrics, following what felt like personal impulses—hips swiveled, spines undulated, arms rippled, faces scrunched into an array of grimaces. Gathering up fabric as they stood, they made their way in a sort of haphazard parade, sorting and fussing with ever new contortions of cloth. One dancer evoked a fairy while another seemed poised to fight, moving through a series of fierce poses; meanwhile, two dancers came together to build a large moving totem.
Lia Rodrigues has been enjoying a long overdue introduction across America this fall. (The previous week PEAK Performances in Montclair, NJ, presented “Fúria.” Unfortunately, a bout with Covid kept me from seeing that performance and sharing reflections on it here.) The Brazilian choreographer spent formative years working in Paris, where she has been celebrated ever since, but when she started her own company, she chose the Favela da Maré, in Rio de Janeiro, as her home base.
Echoes of life in the favela abounded. In one dynamic sequence, three shrouded figures huddled together. As they inched downstage, they spread their fabric out like curtains. A woman popped up as if in front of a backdrop gesturing with her upper body in a talkative fashion. Two more women rose, presumably on the shoulders of others hidden beneath more fabric, so that the three became larger-than-life. With coy looks and twisting wrists, they drew us into their confidence. In a magical transition, they dropped behind the fabric and emerged as women on the street. Pointing to ring fingers and miming the peeling off of dollar bills, they taunted and provoked with knowing expressions.
But this was not the only action. Scenes overlapped and bled into one another as the drums and voices—excerpts of songs of the Guarani Mbya people, sung and played during the Indigenous demonstration in Brasilia in August 2021 for the recognition of their ancestral lands in danger—churned. Scenes of submission, where a dancer “walked” two other crawling men like dogs, their faces covered by the fabric leashing them, morphed into scenes of contemplation, in which the same two men emerged as monks in flowing robes. Meanwhile, another dancer walked an invisible runway, vamping and remaking the same red scarf into numerous fashions.
Lives were lived, styles came and went, centuries seem to turn as the dancers collapsed time with all their shapeshifting. Eventually they gathered into a big party upstage, their joy resembling nothing so much as a group of giddy children high on dress up and fort building. The moveable feast traversed the stage and gave way to more explosive fits of stomping and kicking and jumping. Solos emerged out of mountains of fabric, hands busy tying, piling, wrapping, and a celebratory line dance swished downstage in what would have been a climax had the energy dimmed.
But it never did. Save for a few seconds of stillness, the dancers carried on for an hour, never once leaving the stage, with what must have been exhausting work of animating both their bodies and pounds of fabric. Cited in the program as close collaborators, each one of them left an impression and deserves a mention: Leonardo Nunes, Carolina Repetto, Valentina Fittipaldi, Andrey da Silva, Larissa Lima, Ricardo Xavier, Dandara Patroclo, David Abreu, Felipe Vian, Tiago Oliveira, Raquel Alexandre.
A program note also explained the meanings of the word “encantado”—an object of enchantment or a sense of wonder—and the Afro-American entities of the same name that transform different elements of nature into sacred spaces. The dancers embodied these two sensibilities with minimal lighting cues and no scenery. Yet, their detailed choreography and timed stage directions became a spontaneous and rich eruption of intricately connected life. In short, a whole bio-diverse world.
In the end, the dancers walked off as bare as they had crawled on, and Rodrigues’s use of nudity felt like a statement against the idea of material lack as a limiting force. With the same natural quality in which they inhabited the fabric, they simply let it go, the layers peeling off them with every swaying stride. Each dancer retained the spirit that moved them, and every step they took had a little touch accenting it. We were left with another colorful stage, however rumpled and strewn, the detritus of their festivities still ripe for reimagining.