DANCE / Bodies, Mass, emotion

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The Independent Culture
IF DANCE is all about bodies, then the Brazilian contemporary outfit Grupo Corpo was well christened. It has 18 of them, remarkably well- matched in size and form. Even more unusually, perhaps uniquely outside a classical corps de ballet, those bodies largely move as one. That makes 36 arms, 36 legs, and a direct hit between the eyes.

The programmefor Grupo Corpo's English tour (which ended at Sadler's Wells last night) was bold: two works of 50 minutes each, the first of them set to a high-decibel performance of Mozart's 'Orphanage' Mass. It looked hard work on paper, and when the dancers appeared in sombre suits, office frocks and sensible lace-ups, the heart did not soar.

The group's choreographer, Rodrigo Pederneiras, chose a subtle path, working through the words of the Mass and drawing on an iconography that seemed to encompass the entire tradition of European religious art, from the ecstatic saints of a Titian or El Greco (arms flung wide, pleading palms, breastbones raised to Heaven) to Goya's demented cripples.

These two modes - of spiritual fervour and physical torpor - are incorporated in a breathlessly fast, fluid manner that occasionally risks looking like a prayer-and-praise workout, but at best depicts the complex duality of human experience - joy and fear, success and failure, growth and decay. The 'crucifixion' of a female dancer on a cross formed by two other dancers was a high point, as was an entirely unerotic pas de deux danced by three pairs of men - presumably referring to God the Father and Son in one way, and the Trinity in another.

Pederneiras's fondness for numbers carried over into 21, set to a scintillating, mostly synthesised score by Jose Miguel Wisnik - a fellow Brazilian I presume, from whom I wish we could hear more. Again, the theme is vast and indirectly biblical: the Creation of the world and all that's in it, no less.

This time those 18 bodies were revealed in all their Lycra'd sinewiness, as a sea of gently waving atoms Big- Banged into livid yellow dervishes, hopping and twitching as if on live wires. Ensuing sections followed the progress of the physical and temporal worlds, including an exploration of clock-time with arms rotated from the elbow at different speeds, one turning the minutes, the other the hours. Simple, but the effect of such a large company so closely synchronised was mesmeric.

Top marks for imagination, but perhaps the audience was expecting a touch more Latin abandon from the land of carnival and coffee beans. In the last 15 minutes we got it: a backcloth of riotous patchwork, men in flowery leggings, women jewel-bright and Dufyesque. It wasn't samba, but a swivel- hipped soft-shoe shuffle to South American flutes that would have had the audience wanting to join in, if we hadn't known we'd spoil the colour-scheme.

Gymnastic fireworks left the evening on a feverish high, as for the first time male and female fell into their accustomed roles. He caught and threw; she flew, with a daring and speed that made us gasp. Grupo Corpo, please keep those bodies beautiful, and come again.

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