MONTCLAIR, N.J. — In the darkness, they move slowly. As the light rises, their bodies become visible, festooned in motley fabrics, much of their skin painted gold, silver or blue. They drag plastic tarps and one another. It might be a migration, or a ritual procession, one with nudity, silent screams and simulated sex. Who are these people and where are they going?
Those questions aren’t answered exactly in “Fúria,” which the Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças performed here on Thursday as part of the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University. But the work is a local introduction to the Brazilian company, founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1990 and long praised in France but only now making its New York-area debut. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, the troupe comes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music with “Encantado,” a different piece though similar in structure and sensibility.
“Fúria” is a slow-morphing sequence of images, a phantasmagorical procession of processions. For its 70-minute duration, the dance’s nine performers never exit the stage (at least not through the wings), and for most of that time, the sound is the same: a recording of traditional songs and dances from New Caledonia that keep up a constant washing-machine rhythm.
Occasionally, the parade splits or slows to a stop, with bodies strewn as in the aftermath of a storm or a disaster. Sometimes, the performers speed up and catch the beat, gathering in a kickline or a sort of aerobics routine, performing wildness in a manic-mechanical style, happily shaking their body parts, including exposed breasts, butts and penises.
Among the images: two dancers stripping a third as if they were vultures and inverting his naked body; one dancer harassing another who is trapped in a nest of white hair like an unkempt Rapunzel. Perhaps the most common motif is dancers riding dancers, and the greatest rider is the petite Larissa Lima. Her hauteur immediately catches the eye, and as she rides the crawling Ricardo Xavier while eating a banana, she looks like she belongs in that regal position.
It feels wrong, then, when the pasty, red-haired Felipe Vian is later lowered onto her. For him to sit on her seems like a violation (made worse by his cartoon cave man manner), and when she regains her position on top of him and they are dragged on a sheet by others, she rides like Cleopatra on a barge, and the world seems righted.
There are slippery and ambiguous implications about power in this, but when Vian starts playing with his penis and acting crazy, the work tips over into the unintentionally silly kind of absurd. The company’s artistic director and choreographer, Lia Rodrigues, who danced in the early 1980s in the company of the French experimentalist Maguy Marin, traffics in a mode of primitivism that tends to go over better in France than it does here. “Fúria” has flow, and its committed performers seem to have some freedom within it, but its “épater les bourgeois” approach ultimately strikes me as facile.
At the end, the work becomes more overtly political. Leonardo Nunes, with his head and face wrapped in red fabric that tethers him to one side of the stage, makes foppish gestures as he gives a speech in French, before wielding a sword, spurting fake blood, foaming at the mouth and laughing maniacally. I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, though it was clear that Brazil, the United States and members of the audience were implicated, no doubt for good reasons that this production fails to treat freshly.
Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças
Through Sunday at the Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair, N.J.; peakperfs.org.