With red nail polish named “The Thrill of Brazil” on my toes; a ticket to Portland, Oregon in hand; and a smile on my face; I boarded the airplane. On my way to see the legendary Brazilian dance company, Grupo Corpo, perform in a city I’ve always wanted to visit; and I was alone. As a mother of three teenage boys who are still in the process of developing their frontal lobes, being alone for an entire 24 hours sounded dreamy.
As I made my way to the theater, I was intoxicated by the scent of cherry blossoms, the buzz of the city, and the eclectic people that make Portland an amazing place to visit. I then entered the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a charming historic theater, and gazed upon the beautiful details of guild moldings, crystal chandeliers and decorative ceilings. Guests were holding cocktails and wine, while people-watching from the grand balcony. As I found my seat, the chatter-filled theater let me know the audience was in good spirits, and that they knew they were in for a great night of dance.
I had read that Grupo Corpo is a favorite of the Portland performing arts scene, and this was confirmed when the curtain opened to an explosion of joyous ovation in appreciation for what was to come. This reaction reminded me of why I love live theater; the communication of the audience members with each other, and between the dancers, feels like a pulse.
Grupo Corpo (“Body Group”), is a premier dance company founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. They have been recognized for their precise and passion-filled choreography. When I first saw the company, it felt like the dancers reflected the Pediernas brothers’ quest to find the Brazilian identity. Each dancer has a very distinct and unique look about them. In reading articles about Grupo Corpo and Brazil, they talked extensively about the tremendous diversity of the country; with the population consisting of many transplants from all over the world. Throw in economic and political challenges, and it is clearly an exciting and tumultuous time for Brazil. It is clear to me that the Pederneiras brothers see tremendous beauty and harmony in the differences in their country.
The first dance, Suite Branca (“A Ballet in White”), begins by revealing an all-white theme. This includes a large iceberg, full of texture and depth, that encompases the entire back of the stage and frames the dancers. Beautiful, bright, and playful music fills the theater. The precision and gravity-defying moves made me blink twice, and at one point the movements gave the illusion of ice breaking off a glacier and plunging into the water below. Forty dancers dressed in white floated across the floor like ice chunks moving in the ocean.
The final dance, Dança Sinfônica, is a celebration of Grupo Corpo’s 40-Year Anniversary. The colors were black and a rich and vibrant red. The use of red during the performance is powerful, and seemed to symbolize different things throughout the repertoire: love; passion; blood; turmoil; and ceremony. The gorgeous symphonic music filled the space, and evoked powerful emotions. Together, the music and dance felt like a celebration and a struggle; a telling of an epic tale. It was layered, complex and breathtaking to watch. I felt lucky to be witnessing Grupo Corpo live.
Like the quirky architecture and people of Portland, the dancers and choreography are unique mix of look and style. The choreography had a mixture of ballet, Afro-Brazilian, capoeira, samba and more. All these movements blended together, creating something entirely modern and unique. Nothing about the dance movements seemed natural, or even humanly possible. Every part of their bodies were in motion from the tips of their fingers to their earlobes, to their toes!
The end of the performance erupted into a joyous standing ovation, and was accompanied by guttural yelps - because clapping didn’t seem to be enough. My hands sore from clapping and my voice hoarse from cheering, I made my way through the inspired crowd and out the front door. The city was full of people, and the buzz of excitement was still in the air. I remember stopping in my tracks and looking at the pedestrians as they passed by. Realizing that they had no idea what had just occurred inside the theater, I found myself feeling bad for them. I wanted to yell out to them, “You just missed something amazing!” Since I missed that opportunity, I am saying it now. Don’t pass up the chance to feel the “thrill of Brazil” as Grupo Corpo takes the Northrop stage on Oct. 3 2016.
An unforgettable adventure etched in my being; a bounce in my step; and a ticket back to Minneapolis in my hand, I boarded the plane. On my way home to my three beautiful teenage boys. I can’t wait to share Grupo Corpo with them this fall at Northrop.
Ebullience. Zest. Sizzle. Zeal. Just roll those descriptors around in your mind for a moment for a tapas-like taste of what’s on the menu when Miami City Ballet (MCB) returns to Northrop on Wednesday, April 27, with a program of three diverse works performed with a live orchestra. Founded in 1985 by Miami philanthropist Toby Lerner Ansin and the irrepressible Edward Villella, former principal dancer at New York City Ballet, the company is beloved around the world for its flawless artistry and Balanchine-based repertory.
Since 2012, MCB’s artistic director has been Lourdes Lopez, the Havana-born dancer who performed with New York City Ballet for almost 25 years under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Which means the company’s musicality remains intact, and the sunny, youthful company of 51 dancers will inject much-needed heat and light into our springtime reveries. One of the principal dancers is Minneapolis-native Simone Messmer, a former student of Bonnie Mathis’ at Ballet Arts Minnesota and former soloist with American Ballet Theatre.
Classical ballet aficionados: Prepare to swoon. The program opens with George Balanchine’s Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade Strings in C.” The choreographer often referred to the work as his “favorite child,” and it is truly a milestone in the history of dance. Serenade was Balanchine’s first ballet created in America, originally choreographed as a lesson in stage technique for students in his School of American Ballet. When one of the students fell during rehearsal, and other arrived late, Balanchine incorporated both events into the choreography. In its current version, the work has four movements; the last two reverse the order of Tchaikovsky’s score to conclude the ballet on a pensive note.
The Balanchine continues with Symphony in Three Movements, which New York City Ballet premiered in 1972, set to Stravinsky’s score. Often referred to as one of Balanchine’s “most celebrated leotard ballets,” the 21-minute work showcases the composer’s signature propulsive rhythms by mirroring them in the dancers’ angular, athletic movement. And that’s all you need to see: Bodies in spectacular motion. No sets or narrative will distract you from the breathtaking ensemble work, meditative second movement (a pas de deux) or the stunning soloists.
The program’s finale, however, promises to lift the audience’s spirits to new aesthetic heights. Choreographed by wunderkind Justin Peck, the 28-year-old resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, Heatscape is set against a backdrop inspired by Miami’s vibrant Wynwood Walls and the designs of artist Shepard Fairey, whose “Hope” design became an icon of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Fairey, Peck told Vogue, “works with these mandala images that start from the center and build outward, and that way of working interests me choreographically.” The work, which premiered last year, “shows [Peck’s] gift for memorably picturesque, changing group shapes: lines, rings, clusters occur at various points and angles on the stage, registering dramatically. Meanwhile the dancers infectiously show the appeal of the ebullient movement he gives to them, with contrasting through-the-body ripples, pounces, bends, jumps and changes of direction,” wrote Alastair Macaulay in the New York Times.
CBS News has said “Ballets dreamed up by Justin Peck feel at once classical and new, an energy that has become distinct to the young choreographer's work. In just a few years, Peck has made a name for himself as the ballet world's ‘next big thing.’” So don’t expect the program to portray MCB as “clones of New York’s ballet companies,” Macaulay recently warned. “[T]heir high energy has a warm sunniness that surely speaks of Florida.” And that’s welcome any time of year.