Grupo Corpo at BAM

(photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Friday night I was finally able to see the Brazilian dance troupe, Grupo Corpo, live. I’ve seen videos, and have heard so much about them, through Brazilian friends. So, I’ve been wanting to see them for a while, and I was very happy when they finally came to Brooklyn.

Founded in 1975, the troupe, from the Brazilian province of Belo Horizonte, combines ballet with different forms of Brazilian dance and cultural influences — African, Latin, Native American, Portuguese etc. I saw two pieces, “Benguele” and “Breu”, both choreographed by resident choreographer and co-founder, Rodrigo Pederneiras.

(image taken from here, photographer unknown)

I liked the first, “Benguele” best. I saw it as a celebration of the cultural stew that is contemporary Brazil, melding a variety of movement — West African, Samba, capoeira, Portuguese folk, and even jazz — and a variety of sound, from folksy acoustic guitars to orchestral strings, to, my favorite, pulsating African drums. The running theme was a person trying to make his or her way across the stage, or a people trying to find their home, perhaps the result of a diaspora. The dancers moved back and forth and back and forth across stage with a variety of movement. The most common “walk” was the body bent way over at the waist, the arms hanging down, the hands almost touching the floor, almost dragging along it. But the lower body moved to the beats, which gave the walk a definite style and rhythm. So, although the person looked tired and world-weary, bent over from old age or a life of intense, perhaps slave labor, he continued on, like nothing was going to stop him from finding his destination.

At other times, people would move across the stage sideways, knees deeply bent, in a deep lunge. They were very animalistic, looking at times like crabs, at times like insects, and at times like jaguars or panthers. Sometimes, dancers would suddenly dart up from these crouched positions, legs kicking out, like a martial artist fighting his way out of a bad situation but with style and grace, intellect, and artistry — the super-charged, acrobatic capoeira. Some would nearly fly across stage in a quick jazzy skip. Some would slither in loose, pelvic rotating forward samba walks, or side-stepping samba voltas.

There’s nothing more fun, by the way, than recognizing a move! I see now why ballet is so popular amongst people with ballet training. It’s really interesting to see others do a step you’ve struggled with yourself, or to see a choreographer’s unique take on that step.

At times two people would dance together, trotting across the stage happily in a waltzy, swingy pas de deux, illustrating the position social dance has held in Brazilian culture.

At the end, all movement seemed to meld together, like it was blended into one continuous rhythm. The backdrop became a series of vertical stripes, each color represented, and each dancer wore different-colored sashes criss-crossed over his or her torso, a rainbow medley.

The second piece, “Breu,” I liked less than “Benguele,” but it was still good. In this piece, all dancers were dressed in zebra-striped or almost blindingly checkered costumes that at times looked imprisoning like a straight-jacket, at times intriguingly geometric like a compelling architectural model. This piece was much more obviously violent than the first, as dancers thrashed against each other, threw themselves down to the ground, kicked and pushed each other.

(photo by Cervantes)

At other times, they would refrain from going at each other, to lie down or stand in a row, making various visual shapes with their geometric-patterned bodies. But the movements in line or on the ground would still be fraught with intense emotion. And soon the thrashing pas de deux would return. The Playbill notes that this work was intended to “evoke the dark times in which we live” and to show “the violence and brutality encountered in daily life.” I definitely saw those, but didn’t think it really progressed; it seemed too one note to me.

Another thing I noticed is that most of the members seemed to be white, though there were a couple of black male dancers. I’ve never been to Brazil (yet!) but thought it was a very mixed race society. My friend, Alyssa, and I had noticed the same of Mimulus, when we saw them at Jacob’s Pillow over the summer. Not a criticism or anything; just something I found curious. It’s the same here, of course, with most of the large professional dance companies, especially the ones specializing in ballet. I just wonder if the underlying reasons for that are the same.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Grupo Corpo, especially the wonderful Benguele, and will definitely look forward to more by them!

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