Sunday, April 25, 2010

Of Unitards and Upwardness

DanceHouse concluded its second season this weekend in superb style, with Brazil’s Grupo Corpo rocking the Vancouver Playhouse: first in a sensuous riot of swaying hips, stomping feet, and lyrically curling arms; and then in an alternately percussive, plaintive, and provocational mix of knee folds, pelvic thrusts, side and back bends, and gravity-defying floor drops. That both works on the program were performed by some of the most gorgeous dancers I have ever seen, every hip bone and thigh muscle and impossibly toned glute of their amazing physiques clearly visible underneath the body-hugging unitards worn for each piece, only added to one’s spectatorial pleasure.

Company choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras’ Parabelo (1997) and Breu (2007) make for an intellectually and sensorially stimulating performative pairing. Both are large-scale, full-length works set to original scores (by Tom Zé and Zé Miguel Wisnik, and Lenine, respectively) featuring a mix of contemporary and traditional Brazilian musical genres. Both also use back panel projections, subtle lighting designs, and make-up to heighten their theatrical effects. Ditto the aforementioned costuming, with Parabelo’s colourful and shimmery unitards reflecting the joyous mood of that piece, while Breu’s eye-popping, geometrically bisected, black and white unitards (see the photo above) effectively express its more oppositional and competitive tone. Finally, both works are full company ballets that anchor their stunning group sequences in a central pas de deux.

However, it is the differences between those pas de deux that give one a sense of how the two works vary in tone and style of movement. The pas de deux in Parabelo is lush, flowing, and vertically oriented, with the male dancer’s lifts and the female dancer’s leg extensions combining to form a rhythmic circuit of expressively desiring—and desired—entanglement. These two are one, we are meant to see, and as if to reinforce this point, the sequence begins and ends in half-light, with the two dancers’ bodies fused almost hermaphroditically as they enter and exit stage right. By contrast, the pas de deux in Breu begins and ends on the floor, with the male and female dancers’ bodies wrapped around each other not, it seems, in mutual support, but in mutual antagonism. Indeed, they throw, and flip, and somersault over each other with such abrupt abandon and wary anticipation that it is clear, in their striving to right themselves and push upwards from the ground, their weight-bearing reliance on each other is really just a jockeying for the better position—resulting, as it must, in shared collapse.

The entire evening was unlike anything I’d previously seen in dance. Which is why I’m such a fan of the DanceHouse series. It is committed to bringing to Vancouver the very best of international dance, exposing local audiences to styles and forms of movement beyond the standard European/North American contemporary repertoire. Next season, for example, opens in November with the Japanese-born, Paris-based contemporary Butoh choreographer Ushio Amagatsu’s latest work.

I’ll definitely be there.


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