Grupo Corpo’s Stunning Athleticism

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With unparalleled vitality and phenomenal dancing, the renowned Brazilian dance company, Grupo Corpo, filled UW’s Meany Hall stage this Thursday evening, January 23, 2014, the opening night of their three-night run. The group presented two works, both by company choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras, that were similar in movement patterns but vastly different in color and tone. The company itself is a family effort by the Pederneiras brothers Rodrigo, Paulo, and Pedro, who serve as Choreographer, Artistic Director, and Technical Director, respectively. It’s a combination that clearly works, as this band of brothers have built a troupe capable of many fantastic feats.

GRUPO CORPO  "O Corpo" Foto: JosÈ Luiz Pederneiras
Grupo Corpo in “O Corpo”
Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras

O Corpo opened the show (though listed second on the program) with a pulsing and mathematic display of pure movement. The dancers, clad in sleek black unitards layered with textured black pants, shorts, and tops, moved like cogs in a machine: in the beginning, they rolled rhythmically to their backs, popping to standing in a dramatic halt, and walked with enough spinal rolls to feel some sympathetic whiplash. Bright red dots of light blipped on and off, turning the black backdrop into a giant control board. The soundscore by Arnaldo Antunes featured heavy electronic beats often layered with vocalized beat-boxish rhythms that helped sustain the piece’s quirky feeling. The work brimmed with striking imagery, and the twenty-two person troupe seemed, at times, to become an expanding swarm of insects in a crouching floor passage, an army of robots hopping with rigid legs, and a flock of bounding men. A blend of Afro-Brazilian, contemporary ballet, and jazz, the choreography was a high octane display of physicality that the dancers delivered with precision and impressive endurance. Clever lighting, designed by Paulo Pederneiras, helped the work reinvent itself in each section. Camera flashes of red light added punch to an accumulating group movement, and a square white spotlight gliding slowly across the black backdrop beautifully silhouetted two undulating dancers. Their calmly waving spines provided an entrancing lull from the fast-paced energy of the rest of the work.

GRUPO CORPO  "O Corpo" Foto: JosÈ Luiz Pederneiras
Grupo Corpo in “O Corpo”
Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras

The second work, Sem Mim, featured largely the same movement vocabulary as O Corpo, but utilized songs of medieval troubadour Martín Codex from the Galician-Portuguese secular songbook to establish a pulsing and soothing world. Meant to depict the medieval Galician people’s relationship with the Sea of Vigo, the choreography ebbed and flowed easily, filled with waving spines and shifting formations. Here, the dancers wore flesh colored unitards covered in intricate hand-painted designs—the women’s mainly of purple and red hues while the men’s tended towards dark browns and blues. Largely about the beauty of culture and ritual, the work tended either toward calm reverence, or exultant group sections. The sense of wonderment was most apparent when a shimmery film of fabric—hanging suspended over the stage for most of the work—descended to create a luminous bubble around a stunningly acrobatic duet. A solo where a woman stalked across the stage in shadowy white light also exuded a feeling of resiliency in the face of hardship.Though the physicality of the work was impressive, the dancers never brought an equal emotional drive to the piece, which could have heightened the overall impact.

Grupo Corpo Sem Mim 4 (photo Jose¦ü Luiz Pederneiras)
Grupo Corpo in “Sem Mim”
Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras

Grupo Corpo’s greatest strengths are its dancers’ technical abilities and incredible precision. Rodrigo Pederneiras has created a highly developed a movement language in which the dancers are extremely fluent. This type of signature style is an achievement in itself, but it seemed to create very similar pieces, just dressed up in different accoutrements. O Corpo felt more striking than Sem Mim, but this seemed merely due to the fact that it was performed first, and therefore felt more unique. It was the lighting and costumes that truly immersed the viewer in the world each piece established and marked the two works as distinctive. Nonetheless, the company’s astounding athleticism made for a highly engaging and memorable performance.