Brazilian company Grupo Corpo celebrated its 44th anniversary this month with a trip to icy Montreal. True to their reputation, they burst onto the stage of the Theatre Maisonneuve like a ball of sunshine, warm enough to thaw the blood and get the heart pumping again.

<i>Gira</i> © José Luiz Pederneiras
Gira
© José Luiz Pederneiras

First up in the double bill was Bach, choreographed in 1996 by Rodrigo Pederneiras. Stylistically it has a whiff of modern-with-a-capital-M, as if Paul Taylor had grown up in Belo Horizonte instead of Washington DC. There are unitards and arching shapes and a muscular bounciness that hint at this work’s DOB, but it has aged well and deserves to be seen and enjoyed in perpetuity. It must be said that this is in large part due to the dancers, who emit a sense of joy from every pore, along with impeccable musicality and technique. Moreover, there is a certain juiciness to the movement that is incredibly gratifying—and plain fun!—to watch.

The set pieces, an array of uniform metal poles hanging vertically overhead, add a strongly sculptural dimension to the work (an impression supported by the oil-slick-black costumes). The dancers hang from the poles, slide down and climb up by turns, exploiting the height and sense of scale that they offer. Visually, it works.

Choreographically, Bach loses momentum in the middle section and the remix of Bach’s gorgeous music by composer Marco Antonio Guimaraes is a little (intentionally?) on the lo-fi side of things but overall the work felt tight, unified, polished and energetic. Bach’s finale features all 22 dancers of the company decked out in gold lamé, looking for all the world like an army of Academy Awards dancing in unison (I know how it sounds but it was pretty great actually).

The second part of the evening’s double bill is Gira, a tribute to traditional Afro-Brazilian cults and rituals. Also choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, Gira showcases a vibrant, spiritually-infused vocabulary through a succession of trios, duets and solos. Dancers awaiting their turn sat on chairs lining the perimeter of the stage, draped in black fabric which they emerge out of like butterflies from the chrysalis when their chance to dance arrives.

<i>Bach</i> © José Luiz Pederneiras
Bach
© José Luiz Pederneiras

At Gira’s core is a voluptuous heart of samba, the fluid hip swivels and rattling loose limbs accentuated by the costuming - both men and women are naked from the waist up, paired with long cream poplin skirts that swirl with each snappy pirouette and add weight and flair. The dancers eat up the space with alacrity, and the music, by Sao Paulo-based group Meta Meta, is excellent. A special nod to the lighting design which, although simple in the extreme, felt sun-drenched, sweaty and just the right tone to evoke a heady sense of place and time.

Strangely though, given how rhythmic and sensual the dancing is, Gira comes over as slightly one-dimensional as a piece of choreography. Perhaps too many solo-duet-trio rinse-and-repeats? Why did it feel emotionally flat when there was so much fabulous dancing going on? It’s a mystery, but one that perhaps proves that art is more than a sum of (lovely) parts.

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