When: January 31 and February 1, 2014
Where: Stanford Memorial Auditorium
There was more than one big concert at event on Friday evening, and the traffic was exasperating. We lucked into a parking spot in front of Bing Concert Hall, where a throng of music lovers was gathering, and rode the wave of dance enthusiasts to the Memorial Auditorium. Finally, warm from the walk and the crush of bodies at will call, I relaxed into my seat and perused the incomprehensible program notes for Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian contemporary dance company with a distinctive style.
Grupo Corpo was founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras, and remains something of a family concern judging by all the Pederneirases listed on the program. The choreography, chiefly by Rodrigo Pederneiras, combines contemporary ballet with traditional Brazilian dance forms.
The dancers move with an internal focus and a completely relaxed upper body, kind of like the best tap dancers do, their arms along for the ride while their legs move quickly and precisely and their torsos react fluidly. The choreography is punctuated regularly with a flamenco-like toss of the head. The dancers’ grounding in classical ballet shows, as does their musicality; the unison dancing was very tight.
The first piece on the program, "Ímã ("Magnet), is set to music by +2, a samba/jazz/funk band from Rio de Janeiro. As the lights come up, dancers move slowly at floor level, in pairs, in canon, undulating across the stage like a hand-cranked ocean in a medieval play. As the music builds, the movement becomes very energetic, with leaps and body ripples and lightning-fast footwork, the muscular men throwing the tiny women about like rag dolls. Phrases of 8 or 16 counts are repeated as the dancers trace intricate floor patterns and groups morph in and out of trios, duets and solos. The effect is a little mesmerizing.
After intermission comes "Sem Mim ("Without Me), a change of pace from the first half, although it begins similarly with a slow procession. This time the music is by Carlos Núñez and José Miguel Wisnik, based on thirteenth-century songs by Martín Codax with large helpings of Brazilian rhythms and even a little Bach thrown in. The costumes by Fruesa Zechmeister skin-tone unitards decorated with full-body "tattoos" are stunning. The choreography incorporates the same Brazilian dance motifs but is less effervescent and more undulating and sinewy. The stylized walk in the procession, which repeats in a beautiful trio for three women, is slow and smooth and hypnotic.
The dancers are superb athletes and quite exhilarating to watch, but their movement vocabulary, at least in this program, lacks some depth. Most of the interest lies in the sheer physicality of the dancing and the patterning of bodies on the stage. The lack of choreography for the arms is unusual and appealing at first, but becomes a little monotonous. I would love to see these extremely capable dancers challenged by some varied choreography and more dramatic roles.