The third and final group in this year's Novel Hall Dance 2006 series is one of Brazil's most famous exports, Grupo Corpo, which is celebrating its 31st anniversary this year with an Asian tour that includes Singapore, Seoul, Macau and Taipei.
Grupo Corpo — which means "body work" in Portuguese — has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings in the small town of Belo Horizonte, far from the cultural centers of Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. It was founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras, who remains the company's artistic director and lighting designer. He gathered together family members and friends to form both a company and a dance school. His parents gave over their house to the fledgling group and it remained their base of operations for the first three years.
Brother Rodrigo Pederneiras became the company's choreographer in 1981 and almost immediately began to create a new standard for contemporary dance in Brazil by mixing the troupe's Afro-Brazilian influenced ballet with modern dance.
The company has become famous for its high-energy pieces and Pederneiras' unique language, which includes whiplash-inducing neck twists, frequent drops and hip-hop-like arm movements. Despite these innovations, the company's technique remains firmly grounded in classical ballet.
The company has benefited from substantial corporate sponsorship of the kind that many troupes in Taiwan can only dream about. Shell Oil was the main sponsor from 1989 to 1999 and then the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras took over that role in 2000. The company's directors have acknowledged that this kind of financial largess gave them the creative freedom to explore larger, more operatic works. It also has given the company the luxury over the past 14 years of performing almost exclusively to music composed specifically for them.
WHAT: Grupo CorpoWHERE: Novel Hall (新舞台) at 3-1 Sungshou Rd, Taipei (台北市松壽路3-1號)WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 8pm, Sunday matinee at 3pmTICKETS: Tickets are NT$500-NT$1,500; Tomorrow's performance is sold out, and only the more expensive tickets are available for the other two shows
There are some exceptions, and one is the second piece on the program this weekend, Lecuona, which is set to songs by Ernesto Lecuona, the child piano prodigy and concert pianist who became known as the "Cuban Gershwin" for the hundreds of popular songs he composed in addition to his piano and orchestral works.
Lecuona, which premiered in 2004, is a one-act ballet composed of a series of 12 pas de deux with an ensemble waltz for the finale. Rodrigo Pederneiras had toyed with the steps and traditions of ballroom dancing in several previous pieces, but with Lecuona he dove in headfirst, and then began tweaking the conventions, adding touches of dark humor and whimsy, but most of all passion. His choreography explores the love, longing, sensuality and jealousy of Ernesto Lecuona's songs, with each couple in a pas de deux telling their own story, each costumed in their own color scheme. For the waltz, the couples unite on stage — the women now gowned in long white dresses — their numbers multiplied by a huge mirrored cube until the stage appears to be a vast ballroom filled with swirling pairs.
It is almost guaranteed to leave the audience dancing out of the theater when the show is over.
The show begins, however, on a very different note, with 1997's Parabelo, which Rodrigo Pederneiras has called "his most Brazilian" ballet. It was inspired by the folk dances, devotional dances and music of northeastern Brazil, especially Bahia, such as the baiao and xaxado. The soundtrack, by Tom Ze and Jose Miguel Wisnek, features traditional music and chants. Images of the votive offerings of countryside churches inspired the set design, with five huge heads placed to watch over the stage.