Grupo Corpo's dazzling return is energized and hyperdetailed, with a hit of Brazilian spice

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      A DanceHouse production. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, February 28

      From its whirling frenzies to its quietly aching pas de deux, Grupo Corpo's third visit to Vancouver last night may have been the most dazzling yet.

      Honed by the same family of artists over more than four decades in Brazil, the troupe seems only to get better, faster, and more fluid with its hybrid of cutting-edge contemporary ballet and Brazilian culture.

      The program opens with Dança Sinfonica, created by choreographer and cofounder Rodrigo Pederneiras in 2015 to celebrate Grupo Corpo’s 40th anniversary. Standing out is the diverse symphonic score by Marco Antônio Guimarães.

      The lyrical work is a study in partnering at its most sophisticated and innovative. The men wore black, with the women in a scarlet that matched the red side curtains--a minimalist setting, but filled to the flies with energy and hyperdetailed movement. The mood was joyous and life-affirming, with the exception of a sole woman in a nude-coloured leotard (the spectacularly lithe Ágatha Faro).

      Curling herself fetally into her partner's arms, or arching as he hoists her skyward, she offsets the driving, flickering movement of the others with aching emotion, despair that needs to be lifted. Elsewhere across the stage, women and men pair in increasingly unexpected ways, sometimes folding like multilegged insects moving across the floor. At moments the women stand stiff, raised into the air like beacons, or are swung, by two men, like human trapezes. The overall sensation is of women bending, arching, and folding into gravity-defying lifts, like ever-shifting origami. The work has the grace of ballet technique, seamlessly interwoven with hints of the rhythmic footwork and swivelling hips of traditional Afro-Brazilian dance.

      That mood contrasted with the dizzying Gira, named for the spinning of the rituals that inspired it. The production design, with its row of glowing candle-like light in the darkness, makes us feel like we are being let in on a secret practice. In a genius touch, the dancers appear and disappear from under body-covering black veils on chairs around the perimeter of the stage, so that it looks like they are emerging from and being swallowed by the shadows as they come and go.

      Though it draws from Umbanda, the Afro-Brazilian religion that finds mediums channelling spirits through their bodies, the piece is far from a literal reenactment—though Brazilians sitting with me noticed some of the telltale movement, from the arms pushing back on the hips like wings and the heads thrusting back and forth.  Sometimes the men bend all the way backward while stepping fiercely forward--as if they might fall over at any moment.

      Its predominant sensation is of endlessly swivelling bodies, emphasized by the dancers' bare chests and loose white skirts, as well as the intricate footwork that the choreographer seems to accelerate to hyperspeed as the piece goes on. By the breathless crescendo, as São Paulo band Méta Méta's previously jazz sax, drums, and bass violin experiments give way to a punk energy, the strong male dancers reach beyond physical limits into a realm that feels trancelike and superhuman. The audience on opening night went wild for it, jumping to its feet.  

      One of the great joys of watching Grupo Corpo is its array of bodies and skin tones as diverse as the rich feijoada that makes up Brazil's heritage, and each brings his or her own spice to the vocabulary. The technical polish and physical strength are there, but so is a driving energy that feels like pride mixed with a blast of Brazilian sun--something that not just drizzle-overdosed Vancouverites can use right now, but the world.