Grupo Corpo at the Power Center: Lessons in the overuse of power

Monday, October 7, 2019 - 1:05pm

Grupo Corpo

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Grupo Corpo

By the time the Power Center’s lights had dimmed for the final performance of Grupo Corpo’s weekend stay in Ann Arbor, I had long settled into the comforts of being an audience member. The shimmering curtain, red fold-down seats and whirring small-talk of everyone around me had helped to wind down my busy Sunday afternoon. 

When the curtain lifted, the stage remained quiet. The first dancer came flying downward from the air above the stage floor. The move was an intelligent tactic on behalf of choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras — it grabbed my expectations and threw them out the window (or perhaps more accurately, into the wings). In doing so, Pederneiras woke up my drowsy Sunday-afternoon brain and asked for my attention in the following two-act performance. 

Unfortunately, the show failed to be this engaging throughout. The Brazilian modern dance group performed two 45-minute works — “Bach” and “Gira” — which were touted by the University Musical Society’s preview as “wildly different.” Contradictingly, I noticed a lot of similarities. 

Grupo Corpo’s dancers are inspiringly powerful, but this power comes to a fault. The performers use every ounce of themselves. They whack their leg extensions into the air and actively push their bodies into the ground when landing a jump. They dance with an energy that tinkers on the edge of losing control (sometimes, it looked like they actually had). Their necks jolt back toward their spines with abandon and their arms disregard the anatomical limitations of a shoulder joint. Their willingness for power dismissed my want to respect the fragility of a human form. 

In the beginning, this was exceptionally satisfying. I was entranced by the freedom engendered in their lack of fear. After a while, though, the novelty wore off. I longed for more subtlety but only saw their rote power increase by every spin, whirl, jump and jolt.  

“Bach,” set to music by Marco Antônio Guimarães inspired by the style of J.S. Bach, relied heavily on the power and dynamism of its score. Throughout, the sounds of organ and strings pierced the refined air of the theatre. The remnants of Bach’s well renowned melodies were certainly detectable, but this music was designed to make a thoroughly modern impression. To match this drama, a set of long poles lowered from the ceiling and the dancers sifted through the new architecture by hanging and swinging from above while action continued onstage below. This dimension provided a new sense of space, but over time the performance came to depend on the poles too heavily. As they became less new, I shifted back to the unchanging energy of the dancing and realized there was little left to maintain my initial excitement. 

On the surface, “Gira” did appear different. Both men and women wore long white skirts that swirled alongside their jumps. The supple fabric added a new layer of grace to especially rigid movements. Based on the spirits of an ancient religion, the dancers remained on the side and back of the stage while they were not moving, cocooned away in black seats with individual overhanging curtains. Their presence made for a sense of community but was also mysteriously reminiscent of death. Much like the poles in Bach, this paradox catalyzed my engagement. Also like “Bach,” however, the theme grew old before the end of the work. 

As the final curtain lowered I blinked in disbelief at the performers’ stamina but was left bored by the ongoing applause. I was ready to get out of the theatre. The evening had slathered an even level of force across the stage but failed to reach the subtlety required to fill the nooks and crannies hidden deep below. I couldn’t find the specificity that I latch onto in a live performance, and as I meandered home and slouched onto my couch I could already feel the dance’s memory floating away, lost among the sea of indistinguishable jolts, kicks, spins and undulations.