February 5, 2019
Grupo Corpo, the Brazilian dance troupe founded in 1975 and directed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, returned to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the fifth time in sixteen years with two large group works, “Bach” and “Gira.” Grupo Corpo’s blend of ballet, modern, and Brazilian movement, relentlessly energetic and daring, warmed the enthusiastic BAM audience on an especially frigid night in February.
In “Bach,” choreographed by Pederneiras in 1996, the company has its very own version of the slow-building, excitement-inducing, driving pulse of such masterworks as Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room.” The excellent lighting complemented the strangely wonderful set design: a bunch of long, tube-like fixtures hanging from the rafters, like floating organ pipes or golden icicles. Both men and women take turns hanging from these, while very high-octane dancing with high, flexed kicks, jumps, and arm swings happen below. In several duets, the women are flung high in the air and swung around with abandon, daring us to look away.
Inventive phrases are repeated with meticulous execution in tandem with the music, with balletic pirouettes, big jumps, jazzy pas de bourees, and cheerleader sass. The mood changes when several women are gently dragged on the ground by their men, slowly turned, lifted, then lowered down again, with the women leading the way with their focus, even while they depend on the men to move.
Later, they change into gold tight-fitting outfits (a la Tharps Golden Section) and a woman hangs on to a golden tube with her legs wrapped tightly around it. She is lit in a diagonal stream of light from above, transforming her into an angelic, celestial creature. At times the music “inspired by J.S. Bach” – which clearly referenced or replicated some of his more famous works, including the cello suites, with an electronic synthesizer – sounded rather like “Hooked on Bach” – less poetic than the concept and dancing that builds to a wonderful climax.
“Gira” (2017), a more recent work also by artistic director Pedeneiras, is inspired by the rites of Umbanda, a syncretic blend of Candomblé, Catholicism and Kardecism, to a commissioned score by Metå Metå that also relied on electronic sounds, mixed with percussion, saxophone, and some less exotic, screeching sounds. The whole cast wore long white skirts, and both men and women danced with bare torsos, revealing their gorgeous bodies during a sustained, intense series of solos, duets, and group work.
Raw sexuality abounded especially in some partnered moments where the women squatted and resisted, while the men held their arms from behind, simultaneously restraining them and throwing them from side to side. One fierce woman – bald and brazen – danced with soulful, intense, deep backbends, arms often held behind her back, and wildly shaking shoulders, encapsulated the whole feeling of these rituals: the communal ecstasy, the abandon, the fire of someone possessed by the spirit of dance itself.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis