Grupo Corpo’s Parabelo and Breu create a new vocabulary of movement

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      A DanceHouse presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, April 24. No remaining performances

      Music and dance have been joined at the hip since prehistoric times, but rarely is their fusion more perfectly expressed in a national culture than in Brazil, where people dance as they walk, sing at any opportunity, and turn any object, including themselves, into percussion instruments.

      At Grupo Corpo’s performances of Parabelo and Breu at the Vancouver Playhouse, every movement, every gesture, every ripple, bulge, or flex of muscle of the 19 dancers was in harmony with original scores written in close collaboration with choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras. Although the two pieces had contrasting themes, they shared an extraordinary vitality and a new vocabulary of movement—the confluence of ballet, contemporary dance, and the myriad Brazilian traditions that are the hallmark of Grupo Corpo.

      Parabelo is infused with the culture of north-eastern Brazil and its back country, the poor and arid sertí£o, whose music and dance freely mixes folk traditions from indigenous Brazilian, European, and African sources. The piece opened with the slow pounding of hammers—evoking not only toil but the killing parabelo sun. The ensemble crouched like tarantulas, backs turned to the audience. Occasionally a leg would rear up in the air, like a defiant tree in the rocky outback. The soundscape featured muffled work chants, the sound of a scratchy rabeca fiddle, and sparse piano.

      Gradually the music became lighter and faster, with an edge of jazz. Co-composers Tom Zé and José Miguel Wisnik, well-known in Brazil’s music circles for their savvy blending of the primitive and sophisticated, have created a fabulous work in Parabelo. The rhythms of accordion-led baií£os and the more vigorous forró inspired the undulating dancers, whose bodies seemed to flow like water. While the focus stayed on the ensemble, the tall and elastic Mariana do Rosário was outstanding for her joyful power.

      Breu was much darker, though not as heavy as anticipated. The curtain rose on a stage resembling a battlefield, strewn with corpses. Then all arose, except one. The theme was violence, and the moves were often very forceful, dynamic, and sexual. For his score, Brazilian songwriter Lenine has created a wonderful hybrid that ranges from indigenous flutes over an industrial beat to clangy, densely textured rock. Everything meshed magnificently, including the black-and-white unitards—part Amazonian warrior, part Spider-Man—by costume designer Freusa Zechmeister.

      At the end of the breathtaking piece, all the dancers suddenly fell to the ground—after which the audience stood up to acclaim Grupo Corpo’s astonishing Vancouver debut.