Review: Emio Greco | PC at Southbank Centre

Performance: 22 & 23 May 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Friday 25 May 2012

Emio Greco | PC 'Rocco' Photo: Laurent Ziegler

Performance reviewed: 22 May

Walking into the Queen Elizabeth Hall you half expected to smell cigarettes and sweat, and to feel the stickiness of spilt beer underfoot. A boxing ring occupied the stage, complete with ringside seats, and a haze of smoky fog lurked in the air. Glowering and occasionally puffing on a half-spent fag, two men sat sizing each other up from opposing corners. Their gritty, bare-chested corporeality and menacing glares across the space, established from the start the interplay of rivalry and eroticism permeating this work about violent sport and masculinity.

In an extended opening section, these two confronted each other, moodily posing and posturing inside an expanding pinpoint spotlight. Suddenly they were interrupted by the squeaky giggles of two frisky figures in black with Mickey Mouse ears and boxing gloves, impish characters emerging from the stalls to play fight with the audience and scurry manically to and fro around the perimeter of the ring, like sideshow jesters mocking the sombre tone of the proceedings. Things got serious again when the pair in the middle switched places with these cartoon pranksters and the latter stripped off their masquerade to reveal two wiry dancers in sparkly pants. This featherweight duo then executed a battery of combat duets punctuated by the clanging bell signalling rounds in a boxing match. These were the most thrilling displays of physicality of the evening. Sharp, viper-like extensions and recoils were interspersed with serpentine undulations and even a few actual connecting punches. Dancer Derck Cayla was particularly slithery, jutting out his chin in a cocky challenge and striking out with lethal precision.

Rocco is the product of Emio Greco | PC , an innovative dance theatre company led by choreographer/Directors Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten. The two run the International Choreographic Arts Centre (ICK) in Amsterdam and together they have ambitiously tackled projects like the opera Orfeo ed Euridice at the Edinburgh International Festival, a three-part dance work based on Dante’s Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia) and a location project based on a Fellini film, which took place on a boat.

There are some Fellini-esque elements in Rocco , which also takes its inspiration from a film, in this case the family drama/boxing film Rocco e i suoi Fratelli by Luchino Visconti. The ridiculous-to-sublime morphing of mouse-eared buffoon figures into seriously sexy combatants was such a moment. But also a sort of interval section in which two of the men comically lip-synched to the campy Italian standard Parole Parole, throwing bon bons to the crowd, and finishing off with a bruising boy-on-boy kiss. This moment of over-the-top homoerotic melodrama was obviously a clever attempt at dealing with the sexual tension conjured by male bodies colliding in violent exchanges, but the gesture felt a bit tacked-on, more embarrassed by this dilemma than actually confronting it.

At times Rocco seemed constrained by the thematic accoutrements of its boxing ring milieu; the skill of the dancers and the creative powers of the makers wanting to spiral out into fantasy more than the task they set themselves would allow. Nevertheless this is accomplished dance theatre, and Emio Greco | PC are a company working toward virtuosity in the genre.

Jeffrey Gordon Baker took part in this year’s Resolution! Review – The Place’s online magazine which includes reviews of every Resolution! show, by professional dance critics and aspiring writers. An ex-New Yorker, he’s in London studying for a PhD in Aesthetic Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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