GRUPO CORPO, one of Brazil’s better known contemporary dance companies, is at the Music Center this weekend as part of their current national tour. They are a company full of hustle and personality that veers in a different direction from the big classical companies, icons such as Merce Cunningham and Ailey, and companies out of the Euro mold like Hubbard Street that have been the standard fare on dance at the Music Center recently. On the whole it was a welcome change. GRUPO CORPO offers an accessible movement style and appealing dancers who cover the physical demands of their homegrown movement aesthetic with muscular exuberance and theatrical flair. And while choreographer, Rodrigo Pederneiras, references street dance as the basis for his inspiration what you see mostly is a company the leans on standard dance methods and training disciplines. A lightly sold house on Friday evening benefited many in the cheap seats who were upgraded to better real estate in the orchestra and Founders Circle.
GRUPO CORPO, founded in 1975 by Artistic director Paulo Pederneiras, dances with a style that borrows from jazz and modern dance, ballet, regional Brazilian traditions and Capoeira. It is easy to see those forces in play in the two pieces by resident choreographer Rodrigo Perdeneias in Friday evening’s performance. The question is: what should a complex hybrid like this actually look like once the bodies are set in motion and how to find some kind of unity of style? Perdeneiras tends to accomplish this with the use of repeated movement and a kind of dance in overdrive which rarely lets your eye or attention settle for very long in one place. Turning movements (almost always whipped with a fierce intensity) are sometimes posed like ballet turns and then later, set in a jazzy fashion with the turning leg in a slight plié and the free foot tucked in tight at the ankle. They looked coolly done. Some of the dancers, such as Alberto Venceslau, dance with genuine refinement while others rely on a more personal style that feels less based on specialized training. In the end, what is undeniable is the enthusiasm and the sheer dedication to explosive movement. It is at times unrelenting and can leave you aching for some sort of repose.
The programming Friday offered two forty minute pieces with more similarities than differences. The first, Parabelo (1997) reached in the direction of nativistic, traditional movement and content. The second, Ímã (magnet) is in part driven by some exceptional LED lighting effects by Paulo Pederneiras and music that references Brazilian jazz. The Parabelo score is by Tom Zé and José Miguel Wisnik. Ímá is by +2 | ( Moreno, Domenico and Kassin). Both are multi-section pieces which employ exceptional sound scores commissioned especially for the choreography. Both begin with the dancers on the floor in a long opening section. The lighting for both is initially muted and the costuming subdued but skin tight. Both conclude in a riot of color and a full stage crowded with all nineteen dancers.
Parabelo —a type of gun and obliquely a reference to the lethal sun of northeastern Brazil– opens beneath a set of oversized heads which float as a drop above the stage. It is replaced with a second backdrop in the form of a giant stage-sized collage of photos, portraits mostly, the kinds of things pulled from a home family photo album and placed on an altar or shrine as a votive. The significance, which came across in the stage design and the music (especially the a cappella vocal sections) was clear but the connection in the movement seemed thin. It played with more force in the solemnity of the opening and slower ensemble sections than it did in the later sections where the busy movement became its own message. Along the way there were exceptional individual performances. Everson Botelbo and Alberto Venceslau were excellent in their airborne duo which was powerful and beautifully synchronized. Marina do Rosário was theatrically appealing in her solo section. She communicates with the audience using an intensely lively face and lots of physical attitude. Helbert Pimenta and Silvia Gaspar lived dangerously in their pas de deux in which he carries her the entire time. The big ensemble sections were exciting but the density of the step-loaded movement could become relentless without a clear objective.
Ímã is a high concept piece which cleverly binds dancer to dancer to achieve special effects as the couples partner one another. In one section, two men counter balance each other in an extended duo of hands-free partnering . They remain in constant contact. Especially powerful were the gravity-defying thrown lifts. Helbert Pimenta and Gabriel Gimenez were also remarkable in their aggressive duo. They were purposefully fearsome and danced with an improvisatory abandon. The mixed partnering plays out in various combinations before the choreography finally allows the dancers to disengage and fend for themselves in a series of smaller ensemble sections. The lighting design was exceptional and bathed the stage in a highly saturated colored light. It became as much of a presence as the dancers themselves.
The costuming, which showed a preference for body hugging coverings and brilliant color, was by Freusa Zechmeister who also designed the sets for both pieces. Both scores were easily as compelling as the dancing. Brazil is a huge country with a vast storehouse of music to draw from. I liked everything I heard on Friday, especially the forró-driven instrumentals with accordion and triangle in Parabelo and the jazz inflected arrangements in Ímã. All the music was impeccably produced.
GRUPO CORPO is a company with an evident and boisterous personality. The program on Friday though limited in the variety of what it offered was still a chance to catch a rare glimpse of contemporary Brazilian dance . Not limited was the extraordinary vitality, generosity and inexhaustible energy of the GRUPO CORPO dancers. The audience stood; the applause was genuine. Their tour continues with performances in Seattle and Santa Barbara.