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Group Acorde Tells Two Stories of Adaptation Through Dance and Music

Group Acorde will premiere Roberta Paixão Cortes’s Belonging (or not) Abroad during adaptar: stories of adaptation.
Group Acorde will premiere Roberta Paixão Cortes’s Belonging (or not) Abroad during adaptar: stories of adaptation. Photo by Fluid Frames Dance Photography
The idea of change – specifically changing to suit new or different conditions – lends itself to adaptar: stories of adaptation, the latest full-evening production from Group Acorde.

Founded in 2016, the Houston-based company began when choreographer-dancers Roberta Paixão Cortes and Lindsey McGill reached out to musician-composers Thomas Helton and Seth Paynter with the goal of creating works without the separation that typically exists between dancers and musicians. As Paixão Cortes notes, “dancers [usually] work with recorded music and the musicians work in their own corner.”

“We wanted to see how it would be possible, or if it would be possible, to actually talk to musicians and see if they would be interested in collaborating with dance from the beginning of an idea to the end, and to work together as a way to understand both mediums and enhance how both mediums could be presented and created,” says Paixão Cortes.

It’s a process apparent in the creation of Paixão Cortes’s Belonging (or not) Abroad, one of the two world premiere works that will be performed during adaptar.

The inception of Belonging (or not) Abroad dates back to the end of 2019. Though originally intended to premiere the following year during the First Texas Latino/a/x Contemporary Dance Festival, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that plan.

“It’s been three years in the making,” says Paixão Cortes of the piece’s long-awaited premiere.

Looking back on its creation, Paixão Cortes says that Belonging (or not) Abroad started with the music.

“I’m a very musical and music-driven choreographer,” says Paixão Cortes. “I had a lot of compositions in my head from childhood, from music that I used to listen to, and they all had a different significance to me.”

Paixão Cortes shared a collection of Brazilian songs and rhythms with Helton and Paynter, along with their significance to Paixão Cortes. Then, in a process Paixão Cortes describes as “organic,” both musicians picked a rhythm to explore and developed the piece’s original music from there.

“It’s a main character of the piece,” says Paixão Cortes. “Without the music being what it is I wouldn’t be able to tell my story.”

Like other pieces she’s made over the past few years, Belonging (or not) Abroad ties into her immigration story. Twenty years ago, Paixão Cortes immigrated to Houston from Brazil, and she credits that time with allowing her to look back and develop material based on where she is in the process of understanding her journey, adding that now she is able to see how much she has lost.

“After I left, of course, I became a different person, an older person, and someone that has more experience with life,” says Paixão Cortes. “But I have been doing a lot of self-development and self-inquiry work on myself, understanding how I lost myself even as a dancer, and how I’m now starting to rediscover who I always have been and the parts that have been repressed and, for lack of a better word, adapted because of my way of absorbing and creating a life in a different culture.”

Paixão Cortes adds, “I would say that Belonging (or not) Abroad is the first, I dare to say, narrative piece that we have done as a company, and it is a very personal story. But it’s also more intentional in being personal.”
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Group Acorde to premiere two new dance adn music works during adaptar: stories of adaptation.
Photo by Fluid Frames Dance Photography
Belonging (or not) Abroad will be paired with a second premiere titled Neuroception which, unlike previous works, started with a concept rather than a choreographer or composer – and that concept came from a podcast.

“There was a guest talking about the polyvagal theory,” says McGill. “I was, like, wow, this really lends itself to multiple voices, multiple inputs, multiple avenues, multiple access points. It would be a great topic for a collaboration or a full-evening show.”

The polyvagal theory, developed in the 1990s by Dr. Stephen Porges, speculates about the role of the nerves in our parasympathetic nervous system in relation to our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

“The nice thing about the theme of the polyvagal theory is it does lend itself to interpretation and variety,” says McGill.

Two choreographers, Jennifer Mabus and Spencer Gavin Hering, were invited to work both together and with the four artists of Group Acorde to develop one cohesive piece, “very abstract” and “not nearly as narrative as Belonging (or not) Abroad” according to McGill, but still with each choreographer’s unique voice and “a nice solid through line.”

“Rather than present one piece like, ‘oh, here’s this person’s choreography and then here’s this person’s choreography,’ what we’ve done is broken down what was created with the company and re-collaged it back together,” explains McGill, noting that there are parts “that are a little more emotionally driven and there are parts that are very stark and more scientific.”

McGill says Paynter took the lead in composing the music for Neuroception, incorporating instruments Group Acorde had not previously worked with, such as the shruti box, the ocean drum and a melodica.

“For the most part I feel like it creates more of an ambience,” says McGill. “It has more atmosphere and texture and vibration…I think the inspiration for the music came more from the primal human brain, like when you’re determining if something is safe or a threat and how you respond.”

The two works, described by McGill as “very, very different sonically and conceptually,” will premiere during an evening program planned specifically for its venue, The DeLuxe Theater in the Fifth Ward.

Paixão Cortes says Group Acorde be the first professional dance and live music company to perform in the “historical gem of a theater” since its restoration, adding that the location not only lends itself as a unique part of the evening, it “really goes with [our] mission to make performance art more accessible [and] to go to places that maybe wouldn’t have access.”

adaptar: stories of adaptation will be performed at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, and Friday, March 10, and 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, at The DeLuxe Theater, 3303 Lyons. For more information, please visit $20 to $30. (Residents of the Fifth Ward can email [email protected] for more information about reserving special $5 tickets.)
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.