As part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, the Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo makes its Boston debut (until March 2) at the Citi Shubert Theatre. Paulo Pederneirasin founded the company in 1985, and recognition and success followed very quickly. As the artistic director, he developed the company's powerful use of lighting and established its particular style, fused from classic and native Brazilian traditions. His brother Rodrigo left his initial role as a dancer in 1981 to serve as the company choreographer. More family members joined and they have, apparently, worked together happily ever after.
The program consisted of two long non-narrative pieces, the first of which, "Sem Mim" (2011), was danced by 20 dancers in nude body stockings covered with intricate designs, a web of filigreed tattoos. Footwork and torso isolations dominated the dancers' movements, accented by unreal back bends, while throughout their arms were oddly still, never rising above the shoulders. The dancers undulated from toe to snapped heads, interpreting the music of Carlos Núñes and José Miguel Wisnik.
The flow of the group performances was broken up by a stunning duet built around non-stop courageous and lyrical lifts, melding from one to the other. Danced with fluidity by Andressa Corso and Filipe Bruschi, this duet provided an interlude of mesmerizing partner dancing that only highlighted by contrast Pederneirasin’s frequent synchronized choreography. Where occasional and brief pairings emerged within the group work, they were formed irrespective of gender, and covered every permutation.
In fact, the whole program was remarkably progressive in its near erasure of traditional gender roles - reminding us of the cutting-edge work of feminist and queer dance companies in the early 70s. The costumes were unisex and the pairings mostly gender-random. Even when a group of women appeared in light, layered skirts, they were quickly followed by the men, also in skirts, but ones that hinted at kilts. Grupo Corpo’s program for March 1-2 includes "Ima" in place of "Sem Mim."
In the second piece, "Parabelo" (1997), the lights go up on the corps sitting on the stage with their backs to the audience in body-covering black leotards, moving to the drums, chants and humming of the music of Tom Zé and Zé Miguel Wisnik. They rotate to face the audience, bums on the floor, flinging their legs in staccato kicks.
The back of the stage was hung with five huge panels that seemed to show the back of a shaved head (several of the male dancers had shaved heads), but only as "Parabelo" progressed and the light increased, could we discern that three of the images were actually face-front. Meanwhile, the colors of the leotards and ballet shoes morphed into brighter and brighter shades of yellow, orange, and red.
The group work was again broken up by a duet, this time danced by Carolina Amares and Helbert Pimenta. This duet, however, provided perhaps the most disturbing moments of the evening as Pimenta literally dragged Amares through a series of awkward movements, always hauling her only by his right-arm as if she were an inanimate object that could be flung without consideration to grace or safety. She seemed more an afterthought than a precious partner.
The Brazilian rhythms of samba brought in a liveliness in which the dancers’ arms and smiles were, for the first time in the evening, fully engaged. Here the heated beat was danced with remarkable unison. Grupo Corpo’s unique contemporary work was rewarded with a standing ovation.