Grupo Corpo, touring

Bump and grind? Just watch and learn
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

You don't need an A-level in Portuguese to know what Grupo Corpo is about. Brazil's trailblazing contemporary dance group, founded 30 years ago by six members of the Pederneiras family and still dominated by them, is a reminder of something all too easily lost in the brow-knitting variety of 21st-century dance. It's a reminder of the joy of the body in motion, and the even headier joy of 22 bodies moving as one. The choreography of Rodrigo Pederneiras is shot through with the spirit of samba and bossa nova, capoeira and carnival, the idea of a body saturated with rhythm. The result is fun, it's easy on the eye, and it makes you long to get up and join in.

O Corpo, the first half of a double bill that will travel to five further UK venues after Sadler's Wells, is something of a carnival procession. Lines of rubber-jointed figures sway, spin, kick and roll across the stage like following wavelets on a beach. Backs flip in and out of deep curves, limbs bounce elastically into capoeira falls and hips have a mobility that denies the usual laws. Barely a muscle goes unexploited in answering the thumping beat, and the effect is at once rhythmically taut and anatomically loose, tribal and urban, earthy and immensely chic.

Brazilian pop icon Arnaldo Antunes was given carte blanche to create the 42-minute soundtrack, and the result is a rhythmic symphony of sampled grunts and gasps overlaid with tonal sounds from an arsenal of instruments. But the technical facts give little idea of the score's vast range of reference, from rock and techno to marches and ballads, reggae, samba, hip-hop, Arabic and African music. It's hard to think where the idea of fusion can go from here. It's the ultimate melting pot.

The stage design (by Paulo Pederneiras) comprises a wall of blinking red lights and a floor washed with different densities of red, but it's also linked to the music by computer allowing the light to react to specific sounds. The black-clad dancers, trussed and tied into curious ruched leggings and tubes, create dramatic silhouettes against this red electric storm, suggesting another, even more volatile, layer of response to the score.

The other half of the evening is devoted to a very different sound world, and it's surely a mark of this company's confidence in their own national identity that they will hitch their talents to traditional music from Cuba. Lecuona, again the work of Rodrigo Pederneiras, is a sequence of 12 rumba-like couple dances, each set to a popular ballad by Ernest Lecuona, king of sentimental song in the Havana of the 1930s and 1940s. As the ardent vocalists swoop and tremble their way through complaints of broken hearts and brutal longings, Grupo Corpo couples take turns to give a modern take on each song, flippant and sometimes comic, but never less than erotic.

Frankly, if Strictly Come Dancing had attempted some of these moves, the programme would have never have reached the air. The female partner in each of these duets spends as much time on the floor as on her feet, and even then seems to have one leg clamped round her man's waist, or hooked over his shoulder. Rhythm, in the steamier numbers, might just as well be referring to rhythm method as couples stylishly bounce in each other's laps or bump their partner from behind. Whether flirty and funny in backless yellow flounces, or slinky and slow in blue, whether smart in tuxedo or stripped down to a gleaming six-pack, every dancer moves with the kind of animal luxury that typically eludes British exponents of the form. Again, my one feeble reservation is that even such fabulous virtuosity, viewed over 40 minutes, becomes ordinary. And Grupo Corpo is no ordinary group of bodies.

Brighton Dome (01273 709709), Mon & Tue; Sheffield Lyceum (0114 249 6000), Fri & Sat; and touring