Grupo Corpo - 'in Brazil dance is a way of living'

This article is from 2010.

Grupo Corpo - 'in Brazil dance is a way of living'

Grupo Corpo’s International Festival performance will showcase all of the dance company’s determined creative spirit, and touch on the beliefs and traditions of their native Brazil. Kelly Apter talks to choreographer, Rodrigo Pedernerias.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Rodrigo Pederneiras’ approach to life. Namely, if you can’t find what you want, make it yourself. Back in 1975, when Pederneiras and his friends were newly qualified dancers, their home state in south east Brazil had little to offer them work-wise.

‘At that time, there were no professional dance companies in Belo Horizonte,’ he says. ‘And we had all studied dance and wanted to make it our profession. So we decided to start our own company. There were twelve of us, and we were very lucky because our first show was a big success and made us enough money to support the company for many years. It was a very special time – we were all very optimistic, crazy young people.’

Thirty five years later, Grupo Corpo has 21 dancers and is known worldwide for its exciting, dynamic and sensual dance. Making its International Festival debut, the company will perform Parabelo and Onqotô – two works which Pederneiras feels best capture the Corpo style.

‘These are two very important pieces in our repertoire,’ he says. ‘We perform many different kinds of works, with music from Bach to modern, but for the Festival I felt we needed to have a Brazilian feeling, to show a Brazilian way of life.’

Created in 1997, Parabelo is performed on a stage filled with an intriguing mix of giant heads and family photos. A setting inspired by the beliefs of those living in the north east of Brazil. ‘People go to church and, if they are ill, ask God to make them well again,’ Pederneiras explains. ‘And, if they get better, they create these heads, or sometimes arms and legs – depending on which part of their body they had a problem with. There are big rooms in the churches filled with them.’

The photographs serve much the same purpose, with families taking pictures of ill relatives to church in the hope of divine intervention – or snaps of a daughter they want to marry off. Throughout, the choreography celebrates the joys and hardships of life for people working on the land in that area. As Pederneiras says, ‘in Brazil dance is a way of living.’

But to talk about Brazilian life without mentioning that other crucial subject – football – would be remiss. For even within the realm of contemporary dance, the beautiful game raises its head. The company’s second Festival piece is set to music and words by Caetano Veloso and José Miguel Wisnik, two Brazilian composers and essayists who explored the notion of the Big Bang.

Choreographed by Pederneiras in 2005, Onqotô is performed, in part, in football colours derived from two of Rio de Janeiro’s rival teams, Flamengo and Fluminense – their games known colloquially as the Fla-Flu. ‘The Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues once said “40 minutes before the nothingness, the Fla-Flu already existed”,’ he says. ‘So in the lyrics they say the Big Bang was not an explosion, it was a whisper from God and that whisper was ‘Fla-Flu’ and in this moment, life started. Onqotô is not a football match, but we do use something about the game in the dance, wearing the Fla-Flu colours.’

What both pieces have in common, is joy – an energy and exuberance that the performers actively communicate to the audience. According to Paulo Pederneiras, Rodrigo’s brother and co-founder of the company, that joy stems from loving what they do. Responsible for set and lighting design on both Festival pieces, Paulo works closely with his brother throughout the creative process and says that for both of them, music is the key.

‘The starting point for all of Grupo Corpo’s pieces is the music,’ he says. ‘We start by choosing the composers we’d like to work with, so in the case of Parabelo and Onqotô, to have soundtracks created by José Miguel Wisnik, Tom Zé and Caetano Veloso was by itself a pleasure – so yes, we enjoy our work!’

Festival Theatre, 473 2000, 20-23 Aug, 8pm, £10–£28.50.

Conversations: Grupo Corpo

Founders of Brazilian contemporary dance company Grupo Corpo, Rodrigo and Paulo Pederneiras, discuss their beliefs and inspirations. Supported by Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust

Grupo Corpo

Building on a solid foundation of classical movement, Grupo Corpo’s high-octane ensemble of dancers combines the sensual elements inherent in Brazilian popular dance with cutting-edge contemporary dance techniques. Sponsored by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers.

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