In his boyhood, Robert Dekkers must have been what poet Robert Frost christened “a swinger of birches” – a fearless and intellectually curious young man with a scientific bent to his explorations. Now 31, Dekkers has been running his own dance company, Post:Ballet, for the past six years. He’s also much in demand as a choreographer for other companies.
But Dekkers still possesses a childlike wonder and impish streak. Do Be, his latest evening-length collaboration with the guitar-percussion duo known as The Living Earth Show is packed with mischief and whimsy. It’s a surreal, madcap adventure with universal appeal, notwithstanding its adult level of sophistication.
Involving Post:Ballet’s nine dancers and musicians Travis Andrews (electric guitar) and Andy Meyerson (percussion), Do Be looks to be the kind of party where stuff gets smashed, the dominant shade of lipstick is teal blue, the cuisine is haute, the music is haunting, and the audience gets to dress up.
At a dress rehearsal last week, dancers zoomed around the stage in zip-up wardrobes mounted on casters. They floated in sunny yellow cloud-like tutus with shiny silver and gold balloons in the shape of stars harnessed to their backs. They grappled with tender precision and played childhood games. They threw tantrums as well as furniture and clothes out of suitcases under a canopy of lampshades suspended in air. They slid noiselessly across the stage in socks and spun like angels, their rapier-like limbs betraying the rigors of classical ballet training, meanwhile, their daring off-balance moves courted anarchy.
Meyerson and Andrews commissioned the five-movement score for Do Be from five cutting-edge composers with wildly contrasting approaches. In rehearsal last week, Andrews maneuvered a laptop, a harmonica, and five different guitars – bowing one of them to particularly poignant effect – while Meyerson bounced from drum kit to vibraphone, an array of power tools, and the classic Simon electronic buzzer game from the 1970’s.
Composer Jacob Cooper’s score also has Meyerson pulverizing china and glassware with a hammer. (No doubt his silver foil space-age costume will protect him from flying shards.) The versatile duo sings live as well, delivering, in Nicole Lizée’s score, a gripping interpretation of “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” – a spiritual originally sung by freed slaves during the American Civil War.
Images of quest and a lonely struggle compete with scenes of playful, familial mayhem, orchestrated by a large team of collaborators that includes set and costume designer Christian Squires, architect Robbie Gilson, lighting designer Jim French, and other creative artists.
Post:Ballet has unveiled a few of the individual episodes of Do Be over the past 18 months. And a music video of one segment of the show, entitled “Tassel,” scored by Anna Meredith and directed by John Sanborn, has just been released this week.
I reviewed an early incarnation of “Tassel” and found its rapid devolution from a vision of tranquil domesticity into hell and chaos darkly mesmerizing – like a René Magritte painting come to life. Dekkers has tinkered with the piece since, and seeing it in rehearsal last week, stitched into the fabric of a larger ecosystem, cast the work in a dreamier light.
Dekkers explains the work’s title as a critique of modern society’s penchant for “doing” rather than just “being.” “Do Be emerged from my search for balance amidst a world that is constantly being turned upside down and inside out,” Dekkers says. Over a year ago, while in the throes of pulling together this ambitious collaboration, he suffered a serious injury from which he has taken a long time to recover and which forced him to change the way he worked with his dancers. Though this barely seems to slow down the pace of his creative activities. “I’m a very physical dance-maker,” Dekkers says.
Dekkers says Do Be partly reflects this upheaval in his life. He also says the show was inspired by his interest in environmental and social issues as well as his evolving personal relationships, including his recent marriage to Squires (who, in addition to creating the designs for Do Be, has danced with Post:Ballet since the company’s inception.)
“The older I get, the more I realize that life is inherently chaotic and disorderly – but even amidst all of this commotion, a soft and steady hum keeps us moving forward,” Dekkers says. “It keeps us connected to ourselves, those around us, and our world as a whole.”