Sunday, February 9, 2014

Grupo Corpo: A Little Bit of Galicia in Vancouver

Exiting the Playhouse theatre last night following Brazilian contemporary dance troupe Grupo Corpo's presentation of Ímã and Sem Mim, I asked DanceHouse co-founder Barb Clausen (who was on her way to lead a post-performance critical response with interested audience members) why the movement in both pieces reminded me so much of Irish and Scottish step-dancing. "Galicia," she said. The autonomous region in northwest Spain, with Portugal directly south, takes its name from the Celtic peoples who first settled north of the Duoro River. Their descendants would eventually migrate north to what we now refer to as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; east to the Carpathian Mountains, between what is now Poland and modern Ukraine; and finally west to Latin America, including Brazil. In the process they took with them their distinct language, as well as their cultural traditions, which included various hybrids of the rhythmically vertical style of dancing on display last night, as well as the pipe music also featured prominently in both works' scores.

Following Grupo Corpo's last visit to Vancouver in 2010--which concluded with the intensely athletic, almost futuristic, and largely floor-oriented Breu--I wasn't expecting the program this time around to be composed of choreography so rooted in folkloric dance traditions. Not that choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras is at all interest in "heritage" movement. Rather, he infuses both pieces with all manner of contemporary stylistic twists on classical partnering (as with the visually stunning sitting/crab-walk opening to Ímã), release technique, ballet steps (I couldn't stop watching the company members' complex footwork), and large-scale unison movement.

Tonally, the two pieces are a nice complement to each other. Last night's performance opened with Ímã, which was actually listed second on the program. It's the warmer and sunnier of the two works, not least as a result of the primary colours that make up Artistic Director and Set and Lighting Designer Paulo Pederneiras' LED projections, as well as the T-shirts worn by the female dancers. Sem mim is lusher, set as it is to an original score by Carlos Núñez and José Miguel Wisnik that is based on a seven-song cycle about the sea of Vigo. A mass of silvery mesh netting also hangs over the stage; it is lowered and raised at different points throughout the piece to convey images of clouds, mountains, and the sea. The unitards worn by the dancers are "tattooed" with different designs by Freusa Zechmeister, which serve both to individualize the performers when they are on stage and to create an additional mass swirling bodily scenography during the group sequences.

As for the company, not only is it perhaps the most gorgeous one is likely to ever encounter on a concert stage (those stereotypes about Brazilians are true!), but it is also among the most technically accomplished. I have often found it difficult, in watching dance, to see the actual physical manifestation of the expression "light on their feet." Last night I did, with the men's jumps in particular seeming to come about as much through the mere thought of levitation as through the physical effort to do so.

It was something to behold, as was the sheer size of the company crowding onto the stage for their bows at the end of each piece. It must cost Grupo Corpo a lot of money to travel with so many dancers. But we, in the audience, are certainly the richer for it.


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