Upon entering the small venue at Theater Rotterdam for Or Die Trying, a new piece choreographed by Alida Dors which premiered Saturday 12 October, the space is already brimming with energy. With a couple of punchbags lying and hanging around, benches on both sides of the floor, and boxing gloves, belly belts and leg protection all around, just about everything you need for a good fight is here.
While fierce punches and kicks are definitely part of the show, choreographer Alida Dors has turned Or Die Trying into an invitation to an intriguing and intense world where inner struggles and the relationship between men and women are carefully analyzed and sculpted.
Or Die Trying combines live performance and film, projected across the back wall. The live parts alternate with close-ups of Ro Dors, Alida Dors’ father who came from Surinam to The Netherlands and ran a boxing school in Rotterdam. Personal growth, flexibility and never giving up were the core values he taught his Thai-boxers. However, the images shown portray an intimate world where loneliness and doubt seem to rule in equal measure.
At first, three men (dancers Dane Badal, Tyrone Menig and Jason Winter) walk up to the audience, displaying tough behavior and with a tense look in their eyes, taking turns coming forward. Later on each performs a solo. One of them calmly voices the Party and Bullshit-lyrics written by Notorious B.I.G.: ‘two .22s in my shoes’ and ‘Ain’t no stopping Big Poppa, I’m a Bad Boy’. From the start their position within this field is marked by a clear separation; the three male dancers occupy centre stage and the women (a revolving cast of four Thai-boxers: Anne de Beer, Dolly Macbean, Juliana Monsalve Arteaga, Loraine Pengel and Yara Piekema) are positioned in the corners. For most of the time the distance remains the same. Even so, you can’t take your eyes off the women as they punch and kick the bags – gently warming up at first, later on more fiercely, and grunting ’ooossshhh.’ They are impressive enough in their mere presence. It takes a while to realize that these women will probably stay on the sidelines for quite a while. Are they relegated to this postion or are they waiting for their chance? Between them and the men, there are no signs of communication at all.
In their shorts, tops and short see-through hoodies, red tape around their hands and with mouthgards in their mouths, the women seem armoured and unfathomable, but Dors has created a clever choreography in which the training and fighting moves slowly evolve into other movements, translating inner emotions, for instance when they gently and repeatedly let their boxing gloves slide down from top to bottom. And it’s the women who eventually change the space and the game.
However fascinating the unfolding of this world is to the viewer, the final part is definitely the strongest. The long stretch up to this moment comes across as a build-up. As the women rearrange the scene, creating a small stage from the benches on the left side and a row of punchbags on the right side, new positions are taken and relationships explored. As the men circle around the stage, using the floor to touch base in synchronous movements derived from breaking, building from small to larger, the women keep on punching in a wider variety of movements, until eventually the entire group finds each other in a harmonious structure that allows the men and women to finally interact.
Composer Simone Giacomini has created an uplifting sound score, skipping between styles and Hip Hop sounds, electronic beats, frail women’s voices, and recurring rhythms. Alida Dors has proved in earlier performances that her choreographies can be flawless. With the added honest, raw realism in Or Die Trying, she has now created a show you don’t want to miss.