Sunday, 26 October 2014

Grupo Corpo at the Alhambra

Yesterday I spent one of the most enchanting evenings ever in the theatre. The Brazilian dance troupe Grupo Corpo performed Sem Mim and Parabelo at the Alhambra theatre in Bradford.  Both works were choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras.  The dancers' bodies clad in gorgeous costumes created wonderful shapes and patterns to hauntingly beautiful sounds. An impression of the performance can be gained from the YouTube video above and the video and sound clips on the company's website.

The works that they chose for us exemplified the history and cultural diversity of Brazil. Sem Mim was inspired by the 13th century Galician minstrel Martin Codax while Parabelo was based on folk songs from the interior.  At one point I thought I heard bagpipes and later the men appeared in tartan kilts. In a question and answer session with the director and two of the dancers after the show I asked: "Why the kilts and bagpipes".  I was told that they are part of the culture of Galicia.  I googled "Galicia" and "bagpipes" and discovered a clip of pipers in Santiago de Compastela. "Such a sweet sound", I thought, "so different from the Scots and Irish instruments". Until the show I never knew that kilts were worn in Spain but there is actually a website about Galician kilts and tartans.  The Celtic influence was just one of many. My companion whose heritage is Indian was reminded of the rhythms of Gujarat in another part of Sem Mim.

Founded in 1975 the company seems to have created its own unique dance style which is not quite ballet and not quite contemporary but blends the two. They dance in shoes with legs turned out as in ballet. There choreography incorporates the jumps and turns of classical ballet but rarely, if ever, en pointe. In the pas de deux in the above clip I believe I saw the woman en pointe but the stage was dimly lit and she may well have been en demi. The most remarkable feature of their technique is that their bodies seem to ripple and shimmer with the sound and light their feet and hips moving forward, their legs and upper bodies going back and their heads loose. Almost like shadows flickering in the light. My companion asked them how they achieved that effect in the Q & A and one of the dancers rose to her feet and demonstrated it.  Another member of the audience asked whether they had rehearsed Sem Mim under water for that was the impression they had created.

In the Q & A another of the questioners asked them whether they dance the ballet classics. They answered "no, Ballet is not their "language" though it is part of their training. One of the dancers explained that she had been attracted to dance by Michael Jackson but she learned ballet in the course of her training and they still do class each day. Certainly they have the grace and show the precision of classical dance.

Grupo Corpo is approaching the end of a gruelling nationwide tour which began at Sadler's Wells at the beginning of the month and which has already taken them to Southampton, Cardiff, Salford and Plymouth.  Their appearance in Bradford was the company's only visit to North East England.  Although the audience greeted them enthusiastically with several members rising to their feet at the end of the show, our seats in the front stalls and there were more than a few empty seats in the auditorium.  Their next stop is the Hippodrome where Birmingham Royal Ballet is based.  Then on to Belfast which is their only appearance in Ireland and finally the Festival in Edinburgh where Scottish Ballet perform.  I do hope they draw the crowds in those cities.  If you live anywhere near those venues you will be richly rewarded if you see the show,

Bringing them to Bradford was quite a coup for the theatre management as they might easily have gone to Leeds or Newcastle instead. In the Q & A a young Brazilian woman expressed her pride in  her nation's artistes but I have to say that I am also proud of the Alhambra theatre of which I am now a Friend. It has brought some top notch shows to West Yorkshire in the past and I hope that it continues to do so. Its manager is clearly a dance fan. I very much appreciate the chance to meet the dancers and director after the show which has been done at least once before.

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