The Setup: The Houston International Festival Spotlighting Brazil may still be a month away, but Brazilian dance and rhythm was on full display at the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater on March 14 and 15. The Society of the Performing Arts presented Grupo Corpo, the second Brazilian contemporary dance company the organization has brought to Houston this season.
The Execution: The first dance on the program, ímá, is all fun and games. The dancers flirt and frolic with footwork that pays homage to samba, that much loved movement of Brazil. The first half is marked with fun and interesting partnering work that requires more than simple lifting. Man and woman move as a unit, their weight carefully distributed between two sets of feet. When one makes a sudden motion, the other reacts in equal measure. There is an inherent comedy in the interactions between male and female, which is used here to magnify the relationship of bodies in motion. The pairs dissipate as the dance progress, but the high energy remains, as does its sassy, jazzy manipulation of the hips.
sem mim, the newer of the two works performed, takes its musical inspiration from a Medieval song cycle reworked by Carlos Nuñez and Jose Miguel Wisnik. The dancers wear multi-colored, multi-patterned costumes that give the impression of large-scale tattoos. The bodysuits are beautiful, but are there to emphasize the dance's spellbinding movement. It is in sem mim that that the origins of Brazilian and dance of the diaspora is identified: the pelvis. Spines roll in sequence, and the skulls, informed by the spinal freedom propelled at the groin, let loose in praise. As in ímá, the dancers spend most of their time in plié, giving an earthy, organic temper to the choreography. The interaction between the feminine and masculine is less about flirtation as in the first piece, more about establishing innate differences between the genders on an ethereal, spiritual level.
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The Verdict: Last October, the Society for the Performing Arts brought Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, another Brazilian dance establishment, to the Jones Hall stage. My only qualm with Colker's MIX was that there was little indication of a native Brazilian aesthetic. In contrast, Grupo Corpo's sublime movement is contemporary, but it's infused with Brazil's signature fancy footwork and Afro-based pelvic maneuvering. sem mim, in particular, has the grandness and life force that feels like dance of the world, yet, contains the ethos specific enough to conjure a country's unique cultural history.