‘Rocco’ is at FringeArts

Alwin Poiana

While he considers himself a dancer, not a fighter, Dereck Cayla came into the boxing-inspired dance piece “Rocco” with some experience in pugilism. “When we were kids, me and my brother would always fight,” Cayla recalls. “I hated fighting and he loved to fight, so all those elements came back. In a way, it was like therapy.”

“Rocco,” which FringeArts will present in a pair of performances this weekend, was created by acclaimed Dutch choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten of the International Choreographic Arts Centre (ICKamsterdam). The hourlong piece takes place in a stylized boxing ring, with the audience seated along three sides as the dancers pair off in choreography that echoes and explores the Sweet Science.

Elements of the dance were drawn from Luchino Visconti’s 1960 film “Rocco and His Brothers,” but inspiration was also culled from sources as diverse as Muhammad Ali and Charlie Chaplin. The piece unfolds in a series of rounds, accompanied by the sounds of electronic music and bells, and is alternately sensual and combative as the dancers circle and collide. During the show’s run at FringeArts, the venue’s restaurant La Peg will also offer a “Vs. Menu,” with three paired courses inspired by the pugilistic theme.

The dancers trained with professional boxers during the development process for “Rocco.” That experience, along with the unique in-ring presentation, made for a particularly vulnerable sensibility in the piece, according to Cayla. “You need constant protection,” he explains. “In boxing, you always need to protect yourself, even if you’re attacking. And the fact that we’re in a boxing ring and have an audience all around us — we’re very visible all the time and have to be 100 percent aware of everything that is happening. All those elements put you in a weird state where nothing is hidden, everything is visible, and it becomes a very intense dance.”

Boxing lessons

Cayla discovered that dance and boxing have more in common than his unpleasant childhood battles may have suggested.

“You basically learn a technique and then you use that technique against your opponent,” he says. “You don’t punch or fight all the time with boxing; it’s more that you read the body of your opponent, which is also very much what dance is about. In both, you have to be super-aware of your body at all times and also be present in the moment in order to deliver something fresh every time you perform.”

‘Rocco’

Feb. 27-28, 8 p.m.

FringeArts

140 N. Columbus Blvd.

$29, 215-413-1318

www.fringearts.com

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