Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker performing “Dog Without Feathers.” (Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker)
Dance critic

Mud has never looked as dazzling as in “Dog Without Feathers,” a 70-minute dance that captures the rough-hewed beauty and rich natural life of a river region in Brazil.

This visually striking work, performed by the superb Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, based in Rio de Janeiro, opened at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on Thursday night, where it continues through Saturday. There’s no use in wondering why a dog’s lack of feathers is an issue. You will never find out. The work’s name is the translation of “Cão Sem Plumas,” the title of a poem by the esteemed Brazilian João Cabral, who wrote about the people living in the mud and mangroves along the Capibaribe River, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. 

That poem is referenced only briefly in the dance piece, with a voice-over reciting a few verses that seem to have lost much in translation. No matter. The dance is anchored to Colker’s fascination with the rugged landscape. Her work is a poem itself, in which images and metaphors flow together in a dreamlike state. Black-and-white video projections and photography of the region amplify the high contrasts, where mud is baked into a cracked, geometric-patterned plane or flooded into goo. The warm, golden stage lighting makes the dancers’ nearly nude bodies glow, though their skin is matte and dusty, smeared with earth stains. The play of textures is one of the evening’s chief delights.

The dancers, as we’ve come to expect from Colker’s past visits, are extraordinarily beguiling, with an elastic, rubbery grace that can erupt suddenly into acrobatic twists. They clap their hands and puffs of dust rise against the light.

At times, an elegant birdlike woman, in a ballerina’s pointe shoes, struts among them, evoking the arrival of a heron. At other points, the dancers cluster to form a giant, heaving crab, rising from the dust like Adam. One scene melts into another. The sound, a mix of lively rhythms, came across as overly harsh at times, as is often the case with recorded music in the Eisenhower.

“Dog Without Feathers” unspools in eight sections, but there’s an amorphous quality to it, and toward the end it starts to feel rambling. You could say that’s an echo of the Capibaribe River, rolling on and on. But without a change of pace or variety, even the most mesmerizing action can eventually lose its pull.

Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker performs “Cão Sem Plumas (Dog Without Feathers)” through Saturday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. 202-467-4600 or kennedy-center.org.