It never fails.
Whenever the UW World Series announces its upcoming dance season and Grupo Corpo is on the roster, the Brazilian dance troupe gets cheers from the audience where other companies get mere enthusiastic applause.
Grupo Corpo is back at Meany Hall next week with one of its acknowledged masterpieces — “O Corpo” (2000), a hypnotic exploration of dance-pattern and body-movement possibilities — and a newer piece, “Sem Mim” (2011), that takes inspiration from a medieval Portuguese song cycle about the yearnings of women whose men are at sea.
Founded in 1975 in Belo Horizonte, a city of 2.5 million in south central Brazil, the troupe is the creation of the Pederneiras family, four siblings who still play central roles in the company: Rodrigo as choreographer, Paulo as artistic director, Pedro as stage designer and lighting director, and Miriam as a teacher at Grupo Corpo’s dance school, from which many of its performers emerge.
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In a recent email interview, Rodrigo Pederneiras shed some light on how the troupe operates.
Q: Belo Horizonte is sometimes described as the “secret cultural capital” of Brazil. What made it a good place to start a dance company? And what made it a good place to stay?
Rodrigo Pederneiras: Belo Horizonte is our hometown, and Grupo Corpo was founded as a family enterprise. Paulo and I led the group. Miriam and Pedro (their sister and brother) were dancers, and our parents moved out of their own home to house the new company. In other words, we started here because we were from Belo Horizonte. Later, we decided to stay here instead of moving to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, because we believe that Belo Horizonte is still a cozy city.
Q: Your dancers have to be loose and light and rubber-limbed in their movement, even though their steps, kicks and lifts are very precise. That lightness — that ability almost to float in and out of complex positions so swiftly and sensuously — is a very youthful quality. How long is the average career for a Grupo Corpo dancer? Or is there an average?
A: Well, it really depends on each dancer. In the group now the ages vary from 20 to 40 years old!
Q: Does the piece “O Corpo” have any meaning beyond the simple delight it takes in all the rhythms and patterns going on in it?
A: The main idea is really the human body, and we go from slowness to robotic movements, always playing with the human body possibilities. … There is a part of the lyric that says, “The body is stuffed with someone,” and that was the starting point of the choreography.
Q: “Sem Mim” (“Without Me”) seems very specifically about the separation, yearning and reunion of lovers.
A: “Sem Mim” is inspired by seven songs called the “Sea of Vigo” cycle. … In this piece, the sea is the main character, the one who can bring or take happiness away. The lyrics of the songs are always talking about this love, sadness and hope.
Q: Your pieces often immerse audiences in a kind of rhythmic, pattern-filled dream. How do you find the right length for a dance? Is a certain length necessary to put your audience in a trance?
A: Pieces are around 40 to 50 minutes, and in my opinion this is the right time needed to develop an idea when you are working with so many dancers. When you have fewer dancers you may need less time.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org