The dancers squat onstage, then pop up briefly, then return to their reflective poses. Dressed in layers of black costume, they have a kind of post-Flashdance style, but their demeanors reveal more intense concentration than Adrian Lynne could ever muster. Voices shout out names of body parts. Red dots pulsate on the backdrop. Grupo Corpo is in the midst of "O Corpo," a work created in 2000 that has more of a 2100 vibe. Yet when the curtain opens again, the company reveals another side, one infused with infectious joy and driving movement. Grupo Corpo may be dedicated to the body's physical potential but it also delights in its many personalities.
Grupo Corpo, appearing this Saturday, March 22 at Northrop Auditorium, was founded 28 years ago by brothers Paulo and Rodrigo Pederneiras in their hometown of Belo Horizonte, a few hundred miles from the arts centers of Rio and São Paulo. Widely considered a leader in showcasing Brazil's fierce kinship of movement and music, Grupo Corpo has collaborated with Tom Zé, Arnaldo Antunes, and Uakti (legends Milton Nascimento and Ernesto Nazareth contributed to earlier works).
While Grupo Corpo's love of music is not surprising, its training techniques are. The choreography is a spicy amalgam of influences--ballet, modern dance, traditional folk dance, samba, African-based forms, even hip hop. Yet the company trains exclusively in ballet on a daily basis, saving the other styles for rehearsal and performance. The 48-year-old Rodrigo Pederneiras explains in an artist's statement by e-mail, "The discipline and line that ballet develops provides me with a base upon which I can layer modern, African, and Brazilian movement."
Pederneiras tweaks the classical expectation, however, by following the impulse to dance freely. "I consider the pelvis to be the center of the body," he explains. "It is what makes the rest happen. I love swiveling hips and loose torsos. I do not equate these moves with sloppiness, rather with an expressive joy that can be as precise as any pirouette."
Indeed no one could accuse Pederneiras of creating a mess onstage. He challenges his 20 dancers to move as one, to coordinate their sharp arms, propulsive legs, and limber torsos into a single source of human energy. Although it is unusual to see such unfailing singularity onstage (outside of classical ballet, of course) Grupo Corpo views unison as a means, not an end. Their regimented approach is infused with enough dynamism to power a dozen high school dance-line teams.
Saturday's Grupo Corpo performance includes the playful 2002 work "Santagustin" as well as "O Corpo." "It's a departure for me," says Pederneiras of his almost minimalist effort. "It is more edgy, sharp, and urban." Whether its rhythms are understated or untamed, this group continues to develop a most distinctive corpus.