Grupo Corpo – 2005

Grupo Corpo- 2005

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Choreography: Rodrigo PederneirasMusic: Ernesto LecuonaFurther Info: Lush strings, melodious pianos and plaintive, throbbing voices comprise the heady musical atmosphere of Grupo Corpo's Lecuona. Premiered in 2004, it is the first of this top Brazilian company's dances in more than a decade that is not set to an original, commissioned soundtrack. The pre-recorded score consists of twelve achingly sentimental songs and a waltz. This great music yields a dozen dazzlingly-detailed duets followed by a fleeting yet grand ensemble finale. The lyrics speak of impetuous and torrid love, ardour and contempt, ill-fated jealousy. Broken hearts and brutal longing are the order of the day and, more to the point, the residue of the night. But what if you don't understand Spanish? No worries there. A translation of the words to the songs isn't strictly necessary. The weight of feelings carried in the gorgeously over the top singing could hardly be misunderstood.

As for the live dancing, it has been shaped into a scintillating display of motion coupled with emotion that is earthy yet divine.

Lecuona derives its title and, fundamentally, its existence from the work of pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963). Even the man's name was musical. Rodrigo Pederneiras, Grupo Corpo's long-standing choreographer, first heard of this Cuban cultural icon after being given a cassette by a colleague more than two decades ago. Although the cassette contained several piano pieces, it was the passionate love songs that touched him most deeply. Rodrigo was thoroughly captivated by their unabashed romanticism. It was only fifteen years later, during a company tour to San Francisco, that he was able to lay his hands on more of Lecuona's music. He happened to be passing a shop famous for trading in rare recordings. There, as if waiting to be discovered, was a CD of twelve songs plus a waltz. To top it off, these recordings featured Lecuona himself at the keyboards.

The dance that has arisen out of Lecuona's heart-felt and seductive music operates on ecstatically sensual overdrive. It is full of flowing fabrics and vibrating visual tones. Each of the twelve duets, one per song, is cast in a particular colour. The scenery consists of 8 x 7.5-metre cubes of monochromatic light in hot, saturated hues - shocking pink, royal or turquoise blue, bright green, orange, and yellow and so on. The dancing happens inside these boxes of light. They, in turn, appear to shift inside a larger black box setting which, by the end of the piece, gradually expands into a gigantic mirrored cube. Clever cross-lighting silhouettes and multiplies the dancers' revolving bodies. The net effect is like a luminous shadow play from a bygone era of pleasure, heartache and ballroom style.

The whole enterprise is lent sizzling sex-on-legs immediacy by dancers who move with a kind of juicy animal luxury, as if they've bathed themselves body and soul in an aphrodisiac. Lecuona is, in short, a supreme turn-on. The men, in patent leather shoes, black trousers and a selection of shirts (button-down, t-shirts or tank tops), take the domineering role. The women, equally fiery in high heels, give as good as they get in diaphanous dresses with plunging necklines and slits up the leg. 'I designed dresses that I would like to wear to dance to this marvellous music,' says Grupo Corpo's veteran costume designer, Freusa Zechmeister. 'These songs were actually part of my youth.' In material terms, for O Corpo she relies mostly on see-throughs, pleats and a mix-and-match of knits, muslin, tulle and spandex. Slip that clothing onto these dancers inside the charged stage environment concocted by lighting designer Paulo Pederneiras, and you have a performance with the power to grab and delight spectators on several levels at once.

Who is Ernesto Lecuona?

Ernesto Lecuona was born in Guanabacoa, near Havana, on August 7, 1895. He took his first piano lessons from his sister. His aptitude was such that, early on, he was considered a prodigy. He performed live for the first time at the age of five. At eleven he published his first sheet music and started playing the piano for silent movies. During the next couple of years he began writing his first musical-comedies. At seventeen this 'boy wonder' graduated from Havana's national music conservatory, ranking first place and walking off with a gold medal. His international career began in 1920, with a solo piano recital in New York. Continuing his musical studies with Maurice Ravel, Lecuona became a world-class concert pianist who toured Europe, Latin America and the United States countless times. His concert music includes 176 piano pieces and 37 orchestral works. His ability to move between classical and popular music earned Lecuona the nickname 'the Cuban Gershwin.' He wrote more than 400 songs that have been recorded by such artists as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. He composed eleven Hollywood movie soundtracks, winning an Oscar nomination in 1942 for best song for the title tune to Always in My Heart. Other film work includes soundtracks for features made in Cuba, Argentina and Mexico. (The great contemporary Brazilian troubadour Caetano).

O Corpo

Choreography: Rodrigo PederneirasCostume Designer: Freusa Zechmeister and Fernando VellosoMusic: Arnaldo AntunesFurther Info: It makes sense for an entity called Grupo Corpo (translation: Body Group) to produce a piece called O Corpo (The Body). Dating from 2000, this was the 29th dance devised by the trailblazing Brazilian company since it had been founded a quarter-century earlier.

The amazing soundtrack for O Corpo is by Arnaldo Antunes. An unclassifiable icon of Brazilian pop culture, Antunes is a poet, musician, performer and video artist. Grupo Corpo gave him carte blanche to develop the music as he saw fit. Between the recording, editing and mixing, the 42-minute score took up three months of the deep-voiced composer's time in his Sao Paulo studio. The result is an intricate web of words, sounds, rhythms and tunes that is at once primitive and sophisticated.

Conceived symphonically in eight interwoven movements, Antunes' score brings together aspects of rock, funk, techno, marches and ballads, reggae, samba, Arabic and indigenous music without either fitting into or being limited by any of these categories. It features an arsenal of acoustic instruments and electronics. Organic noises (grunts, screams, gasps, stomach growls, skin rubbings, salivation, blood running through veins, etc) are overlaid with the sound of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboard and percussion. The human voice is explored as much for its rhythmic potential as its melodic capabilities. It is sampled, sliced and spliced into syllables and sonorities.

The core of Antunes' work in general is the word. For O Corpo he uses four poems created especially for the dance, two others taken from his books plus a fragment of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking-Glass: 'When I say a word, it means exactly that which I wish it to mean. No more and no less.' Anatomical parts (hand, foot, leg, arm, navel and the like) are also intoned, a verbal dissection that converts the words into pure rhythmic intonations.

As with any Grupo Corpo production, the look of O Corpo is as striking as its sound. The stage is conceived as a square of flashing spotlights. The space is drenched in different shades and densities of red. A sophisticated computer system allows the light, at specific times, to react to the score. This aural trigger, combined with the colour streaming over the floor, might suggest blood dancing under a microscope. Freusa Zechmeister and Fernando Velloso costume the dancers in variations of black, using such materials as cotton, nylon and linen. The ensemble resembles a street gang or tribe, the individualism of each dancer underlined by his or her movement and the textures (pleats, wrinkles, ties) of their clothes.

Rodrigo Pederneiras, Grupo Corpo's choreographer, treats his dancers like black-clad human sculpture inside a red box. Steeped since 1992 in music from the regions of Brazil, Rodrigo had been layering most of his work in that decade with direct references to popular folk dances. In making O Corpo he sought a sound that would inspire him to invent new possibilities of movement. According to background information distributed by the company, 'He wanted the noise of the steel in the smelter, the escape of dioxide from carbon, the cold brilliance of neon.' Antunes went further, amalgamating the tribal and the urban, drum and sampler, fandango and hip hop.

As the embodiment of tempo and counterpoint, sound and melody, Grupo Corpo's nineteen dancers bounce off and bound across the stage every which way. Sprung from the floor, their dancing is slow and fast, sinuous and sharp, aggressively gestural or lusciously arching, foetal here and robotic there. Their edgy moves are like a volatile, totally live remix of the music. This body-based bull's-eye of a dance is like an adrenalin rush. An audience is likely to leave it on a collective high that will last long after the curtain comes down.