DanceHouse Presents Grupo Corpo

Updated: Mar 10



For their third visit to Vancouver, under invitation from local presenter DanceHouse, formidable Brazilian cultural ambassadors Grupo Corpo presented two pieces, each reflecting a different flavour of Brazil - one distinctly contemporary and the other steeped in ageless tradition. According to Jim Smith, Artistic Director of DanceHouse, Grupo Corpo “embodies the vitality and diversity of Brazil, reflecting at once its colourful folkloric traditions and contemporary spirit”. Both pieces were Vancouver premieres. Grupo Corpo was founded four decades ago by the two brothers Paulo and Rodrigo Pederneiras in a small town in Brazil called Belo Horizante. Their first piece, Dança Sinfônica, is a joyous commemoration of the intrepid dance company’s fortieth anniversary. Rodrigo’s choreography of the nineteen dancers - the women dressed in bright red leotards and the men in black - readily exploits their athleticism. It is very much centered around traditional couples dancing – but there are flourishes of Brazilian brilliance throughout. The performers frequently break into the rhythmic movements of Afro-Brazilian dance and Capoeira, punctuated by ballet and partner dancing. The women are raised up by their heels and carried, and at other times swung and swiveled around, trapeze-like, in a dazzling display of strength and dexterity. Quieter moments see the dancers pair up in bizarre insect-like contortions, crawling awkwardly across the stage. The performance is accompanied by Grupo Corpo’s first symphonic score in over two decades. It is composed by long-time collaborator Marco Antônio Guimarães, and performed by the 90-member Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais. Each piece is carefully culled from Grupo Corpo’s numerous and varied past productions. Thus, Dança Sinfônica functions as a glorious retrospective of the company’s oeuvre. The music is elaborate and heavily inspired by famous classical composers - but also replete with influences of more modern artists such as Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. The seamless transitions between each musical number are courtesy of Brazilian musical experimentalists Uakti.  The second piece, Gira, is brand new and presents a much older side of Brazilian culture. The story goes that one of the company members happened to introduce Rodrigo to a service of the followers of the Umbanda religion – one of Brazil’s oldest and most widespread faiths. Umbanda is an Afro-Brazilian religion that borrows from African traditions, Roman Catholicism, and Spiritism. It is called a syncretic religion, since it is a fusion of these different aspects. Suffice to say that the experience left an indelible impression on the choreographer. Watching Gira is like witnessing a sacred ritual taking place deep within the recesses of an underground temple. The dancers, male and female both, are dressed the same: they have on white skirts made from raw linen and are naked from the waist up. Their throats are painted red, giving them a visceral, animalistic appearance. Whereas Dança Sinfônica featured complex physical dancer interaction, in Gira they are more akin to individual molecules in an elaborate Brownian motion. The word “gira” means “to spin”, and the dancers certainly do that. They slide past one another, dervish-like, and break out in synchronized tribalistic dancing. Occasionally, like ghosts, they will quietly disappear into and emerge from the black drapes surrounding the set, giving the performance an ethereal, other-worldly quality. As another reviewer puts it, “they melt into the shadows and reappear as if summoned from another plane”. In Gira, it’s quite clear that Artistic Director Paulo is exploring questions of a more metaphysical nature. The original soundtrack for Gira was recorded by São Paulo punk-fusion band Metá Metá, and it could not be more different than Guimarães’ work for Dança Sinfônica. Featuring heavy percussion and tribal drumming, the band weaves together a wide variety of electronica and industrial motifs. The climax of the performance is accompanied by rousing chanting which stayed with this audience member long after he left the theatre. Both Dança Sinfônica and Gira were ecstatically received with standing ovations from the enthusiastic audience at the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday the 28th of February. They would perform here again on the 29th. From their website: “DanceHouse connects Vancouver audiences and the local arts community to the international world of dance by presenting exceptional companies that are recognized for their excellence, innovation, and international reputation. Over the past eleven seasons, DanceHouse has presented vibrant and inspiring companies from Canada and around the world”. Find out more at www.dancehouse.ca