Getting your high kicks the Brazilian way

Grupo Corpo | Sadler's Wells, London
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The Independent Culture

In London as part of the festival celebrating Brazil's 500th birthday, Grupo Corpo (Body Group) claims a dance style as eclectic as the melting-pot population of its country. Presumably, the performers should know - and yes, very occasionally, I recognised fragments of - social dance, African inflections, the high kicks of the Brazilian martial art capoeira. But mostly it was impossible to tell. Half the time, the dancers might have been in a Broadway show, moving in sexy syncopation. The remaining half, they might have been a regiment of insects out on work duty, limbs drawing spidery squiggles, bodies crouched like scorpions or undulating like caterpillars.

In London as part of the festival celebrating Brazil's 500th birthday, Grupo Corpo (Body Group) claims a dance style as eclectic as the melting-pot population of its country. Presumably, the performers should know - and yes, very occasionally, I recognised fragments of - social dance, African inflections, the high kicks of the Brazilian martial art capoeira. But mostly it was impossible to tell. Half the time, the dancers might have been in a Broadway show, moving in sexy syncopation. The remaining half, they might have been a regiment of insects out on work duty, limbs drawing spidery squiggles, bodies crouched like scorpions or undulating like caterpillars.

Grupo Corpo was founded 25 years ago and still includes four of the six Pederneiras brothers and sisters who were among the original members. Paulo is artistic director and designer; Rodrigo is choreographer; and the two collaborated on Parabelo and Benguelê, which made up the double bill. Both pieces fully deploy the company's 18-strong force. The dancers are flamboyantly handsome; Paulo's sets and lighting, devised with Fernando Velloso, are flamboyantly handsome; and Rodrigo's choreography is flamboyant.

It is also remarkably monotonous. Rodrigo has discovered a formula and isn't going to budge from it. It consists of parallel rows of dancers entering from one side of the stage, then travelling to the other in repeated units of unison movement. They seldom vary their busy pace. They rarely deviate into brief duets or solos, so that they nearly always appear as an anonymous mass. The linear sweep of so many identical figures may be exciting, but it soon outstays its welcome.

Take away the row of giant sculpted heads projected at the back of Parabelo, take away Benguelê's elevated platform, with the sensational continuum of dancers moving on it like a human production line, and the two pieces are virtually indistinguishable. That despite their different composers, who profess to dig as deeply and widely into Brazilian culture as the choreographer. But like the dance, the sequential segments of taped music so blend and flatten their components - accordion, rabeca (viola), voices, sawing noises - they come out as a purée. Grupo Corpo becomes a huge synthesiser, spewing out a steady stream of synthetic sound and dancers.

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