Upon entering the Newmark Theatre for Rocco, a work choreographed by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Schoten that White Bird is presenting in its U.S. premiere, audiences will find a full-blown boxing ring on the stage. Part of the audience gets to sit ringside, facing two boxers, both dressed in shiny athletic shorts and dragging on cigarettes, who've already taken up posts in opposite corners. One slouches and looks down; the other sits ramrod straight and looks defiantly ahead. For those with ringside seats, what follows is in-your-face and intense, as the boxers grapple for the knockout. But for those in the regular seats, Rocco still proves an absorbing look at competition and relationships—and you're not dodging the beads of sweat flying off the dancers.
After a comical and lighthearted intro involving slapsticky wind-up punches and two dancers dressed as monkeys, there's a quick blackout followed by a single spotlight shining in the middle of the ring. It's here that the two boxers meet for the first time, avoiding each other's eyes as they enter the small ring of light. A children's song echoes softly before the music whipsaws into frenetic drum beats and jungle noises. The spotlight suddenly widens and the duo faces each other with sharp, angled stances, their fast and frenzied movements feeling tense and stressful.
Yet as they bounce back gracefully from the blows, the sense of menace dissipates. They return to barely looking at each other, and it feels as if they're facing each other out of mere responsibility.
That sense of responsibility magnifies once the spotlight shrinks, pulling the boxers with it. They circle each other, delicately weaving their arms near each other's chests and faces but never touching. Even as their bodies grow shaky and tired, they're unable to pull out of the spotlight. What began as lithe fluidity begins to reek of pain and obligation with the two fighters anchored to the ring of light. After another bell, they clutch each other in ways that become surprisingly sensual. Are they fighting or passionately embracing? It's hard to tell.
After another bell and another shift in lighting, these two fighters are replaced by the two dancers from before. They've shed their mouse masks and head-to-toe-black outfits for glittery spandex and black mesh, and they prance, stomp their feet, feint and challenge. Gone is the feeling of closeness and love—instead, these two new opponents are like a bull and a bullfighter, puffing out their chests for show. One swivels and pivots with smooth, Latin-style moves to the suddenly funky and engaging beat, while the other occupies his corner stretching and moving in fast, almost glitchy ways. It's a refreshing change from the repetitive swirls of the previous boxers.
As the bells ring the different rounds and the music becomes more dissonant and uncomfortable, blocks and lunges are careful and calculated. Kicks come fast, face jabs are common and, at one point, the two hold each other up in tired anguish until they heartbreakingly remember they are foes. By the end of the performance, the winner of the matches is never clear. But Rocco needs no winner—instead exploring the way movement and competition bind us all together.
GO: Rocco is at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, April 11-12. $20-$30. Tickets here.