Culture & Conversation

Put up your dukes

Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten in ROCCO

Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten in ROCCO

It’s a funny thing, masculinity. I don’t think anyone really knows what to be anymore; how to be. Lover, brother, son, colleague, devoted father, salaryman. Metrosexual, Spornosexual. Lumbersexual? Masculinity itself is a battle ground and the relationships can be fraught with complexities and tensions.

Performed as part of Danse Danse, ROCCO by ICKamsterdam deals with these issues in a series of combatative duets performed by an all-male company. The Cinquieme Salle at Place des Arts is transformed into a boxing ring faced on all sides by an eager – bloodthirsty? – audience. Two satin-shorted men are installed in opposite corners of the ring, chain-smoking, scowling, ready to fight. Finally the house lights go down, we hear an almighty ding-ding and it’s on; an interplay of fraternal love, fraternal hate, homo-eroticism, rivalry.

The opening sequence features a tractor-beam spotlight that the dancers dip their bodies in and out of, by turns sinuous and muscle-cramping-jittery. The choreography is very slow and ritualistic, which can be difficult to sustain even for the most seasoned dancer. Finally the spotlight widens as their movements loosen and arc out into a series of ronde de jambes and sweeping Vitruvian Man portes des bras. They fling their arms in circles until we can almost feel the blood gathering in their fingertips.

Then things get surreal: two sinister masked figures all in black with giant mouse ears run out at full tilt, slapstick boxing, leaping around to carnival music and generally causing mayhem. They go through a full gamut of balletic warm-ups and boxing-style knuckle push-ups followed by some fluid hip-hop flavoured quick-fire articulations that made the breath catch in my throat.

The piece only starts to find its true pace when the two mouse-men strip down to his ‘n’ his lamé lycra tights and begin their abstracted boxing match, with tensions mounting by the minute. The music shifts from glitchy soundscape to frenetic piano scales to beautiful Baroque to The Sound of Music‘s ‘Do Re Mi’, punctuated by the piercing ding-ding of the boxing ring. It’s brutally aggressive, emotionally charged and touchingly vulnerable all at once.

ROCCO was inspired in part by the 1960 Italian film Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) by Luchino Visconti which follows five working-class brothers who immigrate from southern Italy to Milan. It touches on brotherly love, the struggle for a better life and the search for identity. But, as the programme notes put it, the dancers are also “Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Laurel and Hardy.” They are every man, every struggle.

Whilst not everything worked with the pacing of ROCCO, the choreographers of ROCCO, Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten, are to be congratulated for their surreal, fascinating imagery. The dancers were passionate and fully committed, and Dereck Cayla was particularly good.

Playing at Place des Arts until 14 March. Tickets are available through the Danse Danse.


Rebecca Galloway is a writer and PR consultant for arts, design and culture clients.

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