UW World Series (soon to become Meany Center for the Performing Arts) presented Grupo Corpo, one of Brazil’s foremost dance companies, this past weekend. Known worldwide for their distinctive movement vocabulary—equal parts ballet and Afro-Brazilian dance—the company presented two works: Suíte Branca by Cassi Abranches, and Dança Sinfônica choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, Grupo’s head choreographer. Dança Sinfônica was created to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary and acted as a retrospective on the history of works they have presented.
Suíte Branca showcased dancers dressed entirely in white before a backdrop (designed by Artistic Director Paulo Pederneiras) which acted more as sculpture than simple set, creating the illusion of a glacial landscape to frame the work. The vocabulary contained specific isolated movements matching the musicality of the accompaniment. Filled with syncopated rhythms and off-balance leaning and falling, it was accentuated by side to side hip movement indicative of South American dance. The piece was full of partnering, including large portions performed using unique mid-level and low-levels lifts. This partnerwork was very acrobatic, with women diving onto prone dancers in a daredevil feat. A noticeable downside to the otherwise impressive partnering was the heteronormative nature of the pairings. Each couple consisted of only the most petite women in the company lifted by the largest men. The choreography of the lifts was beautiful, however this choice in pairing left it feeling stale. Gender politics aside, Branca was daringly acrobatic and received a standing ovation.
The retrospective Dança Sinfônica, featured female company members in eye-catching crimson velvet and men in simple black. Beginning with a fleet of women carried across the stage, the movement varied throughout, as one might expect from a piece comprised of works from a 40 year history. There were duets, trios, and larger groupings, cycling through multiple motifs. It ranged from high energy footwork to a beautiful slow-moving tableau across the stage. The highlight of the piece was a duet featuring the clear (and intentional) star of Sinfônica, Silvia Gaspar. Dressed in a nude leotard, which starkly contrasting the red worn by the others, she was lifted, carried, and displayed, all which brought a rousing applause, despite being in the middle of Sinfônica. The varying sections of the retrospective bore Grupo’s signature—each balanced the freedom of Afro-Brazilian dance and the grace of ballet. Sinfônica ended as Gaspar burst onto stage, running and leaping into the arms of her partner, a moment which yielded the second standing ovation of the night.
Grupo Corpo is a longtime favorite of world dance enthusiasts for good reason: they have maintained a reputation for impressive and memorable dance. Grupo’s very nature is conflicting; they are both innovative and traditional, daring and conservative. As they begin to approach their next 40 years, this stalwart company will need to grow without losing the qualities that make them so unique and fascinating to watch. The enthusiastic audiences at Meany indicate that Seattle will be eager to see how the next chapter for this company unfolds.