The return of Brazil’s gravity-defying Grupo Corpo | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The return of Brazil’s gravity-defying Grupo Corpo

Program includes a 40th-anniversary retrospective work

Grupo Corpo’s “Suite Branca”
Grupo Corpo’s “Suite Branca”

While soccer might be Brazil’s best-known export, one of its most esteemed cultural products, dance company Grupo Corpo, returns to the Byham Theater on Jan. 17 courtesy of Pittsburgh Dance Council.

The company was founded in 1975 and is led by brothers Paulo and Rodrigo Pederneiras. With its unique blend of classical technique, modern dance and Afro-Brazilian forms, it’s an audience favorite worldwide.

The 21-member troupe will present two works that premiered in 2015, one reflecting on its own past and the other looking toward its future. 

Choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras, the 42-minute group work “Dança Sinfônica” was created in honor of Grupo Corpo’s 40th anniversary. It combines “a memorialist theme” with reprised and original choreography set to a recorded symphonic score featuring music from several of the company’s recent works, composed by Marco Antônio Guimarães and performed the Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais and Brazilian instrumental group Uakti.

As a backdrop to the dancing, set designer Paulo Pederneiras compiled a retrospective slide show of more than 1,000 informal photos of Grupo Corpo’s dancers, ballet masters, teachers, producers, set designers, and lighting and costume technicians from over the years.  

Contrasting “Dança Sinfônica”’s nostalgia, “Suite Branca” will be something many fans of the Brazilian troupe most likely have never seen — a work performed by the company choreographed by someone other than Rodrigo Pederneiras.  

Cassi Abranches, a dancer with Grupo Corpo from 2001-2013, is only the second person to choreograph on the company. Her 32-minute group work is set to an original instrumental score by Samuel Rosa, frontman for Skank, one of Brazil’s best-known pop rock bands. The set features a glacial, white-on-white scenic design and white costuming, giving it an appropriately wintery feel for Southwestern Pennsylvania in January. 

Suggesting an interaction with the laws of gravity, “Suite Branca,” with its undulating arms and hips, pendular movements, suspensions and floorwork, is distinct from Rodrigo Pederneiras’ choreographic style, but shows his influence. 

Online dance magazine Fjord Review said of the work: “In shape-shifting patterns that defied our gestalt tendencies, the dancers were rhythmic gymnasts, tallying points for each minuscule pose … tossing themselves into the air, falling to the floor, and sailing over each other, landing with intentional control and soundlessness.”