You often hear footballers likened to dancers – in terms of their footwork at least. It's not often that the comparison works the other way. Yet from the first moment the 21 members of Brazil's Grupo Corpo burst on stage, feinting and swerving and flicking out shins, glossy brown limbs setting off the sharp green or yellow of tiny shorts, the idea that this is one exuberant, overmanned, mixed-gender soccer team is hard to shake off.
The dreamchild of four brothers and a sister, Grupo Corpo has been operating from the family base in the central Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte for 36 years – a remarkable achievement when you think of the comings and goings of football managers. All the choreography is by Rodrigo Pederneiras, while Paulo Pederneiras still directs and designs sets and lighting. Some of the dazzling LED effects brought to Sadler's Wells are state-of-the-art – saturating the stage and walls and bodies in mardi gras colours.
The movement style of Grupo Corpo is distinctive, having now travelled a long way from its original classical ballet base. The flirty bendiness of rumba, the bounce of capoeira, the skyward swoop of lindyhop and, yes, the lightning footwork of the midfielder outwitting a blizzard of defence, all combine to create a lean, limber dance mode that looks enormous fun to do.
Watching, though, as anyone who has ever itched to check their phone after half an hour on a plush seat will know, makes fickle demands. The extraordinary can quickly turn ordinary if it reveals all its tricks too soon, and alas this seen-it-so-what effect blights both halves of Grupo Corpo's current double bill.
Imã, from 2009, begins as a massed rhythmic shuffle, as solos, duos, and larger groups playfully form and disperse like revellers on a beach. The soundtrack, by the Brazilian band +2, uses instruments such as ocarina and cuica to give a national flavour to the electronic blend. As the lighting intensifies – cerise outfits against mango green walls – the mercury rises. Yet even extreme feats of virtuosity – the girl wielded around her man's head like a flag, or the one who bounces repeatedly on her knees off her upright partner's chest – somehow lose their true impact in the mass feelgood fuzz. Grupo Corpo's exuberant uniformity tends to efface everything else.
Onqotô, an older work, is, if you give any credence to programme notes, about the Big Bang, the war of the sexes, and the rivalry between Brazil's leading football teams (yes, all those). Whatever, it literally has more impact as hands and feet thwack noisily against the floor, and bodies repeatedly throw shapes in the air only to land on (padded) knees and bounce back.
Fundamentally, much of the choreography is interchangeable, warring atoms or no. Recalling the two halves in tranquillity, they blur into one happy, goal-less draw.
Following its July premiere, there's a second chance to see Sylvie Guillem (right) in an evening of dance custom-made for her. A quarter-century after creating his first work on Guillem, William Forsythe has made a new duet for her and Massimo Murru. There's also work by Mats Ek and Jiri Kylian. Sadler's Wells (Thu to Sun).Reuse content