BECKET - A caress becomes a slap. An embrace tightens into a chokehold. Sensuous coupling slides into angry tussling. Mimulus Dance Company's "Dolores," which had its US premiere at Jacob's Pillow Wednesday, dances at the intersection of lust and antipathy, where need can slip quickly into obsession.
The vivacious nine-member Brazilian troupe, led by Jomar Mesquita, blends Latin and other social dance forms with a contemporary movement vocabulary, and it was a major hit in its US debut at Jacob's Pillow in 2007. But those expecting a reprise of the insouciant energy and sassy joie de vivre of last summer's debut may have been disappointed by "Dolores," which is much darker fare. Though a playful irreverence occasionally filters in, wit and charm generally take a back seat to melancholy. Every romantic duet seems subverted by the push/pull of emotional manipulation and sexual power plays.
Inspired by the movies of Pedro Almodóvar, "Dolores" plays off the filmmaker's colorful, flawed characters, who long for physical connection yet seldom manage to navigate the tricky terrain between raw desire and true intimacy. Set mostly to slow ballads about love and loss, the evening-length work opens with a lone woman dreamily spinning, skirt flaring out, high heels squeaking on the floor, as off to the side a voyeur silently watches. By the time she works her way over to him, sexily sidling up and down his body, he's turned his attention to another.
This one, however, the spitfire Nayane Diniz, tears at her hair as she twirls. She lets loose a wild scream and careens into another man, grabbing his butt in a full-blown grope. Yes, lust wins after all, but only for a moment. He upends her, sweeping her hair across the floor like a mop. Used and abused.
Mesquita seeds the work with striking movement invention, especially in the partnering. In one duet, Diniz is lifted into the air, spinning atop her partner's foot. During a blistering samba, she's thrown around his waist and up over his shoulder again and again. Sometimes the men partner the women upside down, their heads at knee level. Other times, the women's heads are tucked into their partner's armpit, humiliatingly subservient.
The dancing is superb. Mimulus' dynamite performers are as charismatic as they are technically facile, exuding personality with every sensual shimmy, every playful shake of the hips and toss of the head, not to mention quicksilver footwork that can send them skittering across the floor. "Dolores" is most convincing when Mesquita cans some of the theatrics and just lets his dancers cut loose.
But even at roughly an hour, "Dolores" feels too long and repetitive, with too many duets in the same mode. And then there's the women's hair, which becomes almost a character in itself. It's repeatedly flung and pulled caveman-style, a symbol of both freedom and restraint. After a while, it's hard to watch yet another woman get jerked around by her tresses.