To get our hearts started in the new year, two exhilarating dance shows this weekend may work as well as CPR.
Grupo Corpo, visiting Ann Arbor, is Brazil's pre-eminent modern dance company, displaying amazing physical skills and Latin fire.
Then for something completely different, Shen Yun Performing Arts arrives at the Detroit Opera House with stories from ancient China, glammed up in gorgeous costumes, 3-D backdrops and a live orchestra.
If you've suddenly started going to the gym this month and need a mental image to use as motivation, buy a ticket to Grupo Corpo for Friday or Saturday at Power Center in Ann Arbor.
These 19 dancers from Brazil have bods the gods might envy. The performers are toned, rippling and as springy as gymnasts, exuding Latin heat.
As if to underscore the point, the troupe's name translates to "body group."
(However, in Portuguese, the language of Brazil, "corpo" can also mean a body of work, a corps de ballet or a corporation, an ambiguity the company founders liked.) The dancers put those physiques to stunning use on stage, thrilling audiences and critics alike.
Wrote a New York Times reviewer about their visit to the Brooklyn Academy of Music: "The troupe is remarkable for the disciplined, uniform precision of its spectacular dancing."
Although the company's chief choreographer, Rodrigo Pederneiras, insists his inspiration comes from neither Europe nor North America, the company's technique is grounded in European ballet.
"Our dancers must have strong ballet technique — it is the first thing to see when we hire," says Pederneiras.
But he uses that technique in the service of a distinctly Latin style of modern dance.
"I spend many years of looking and studying many styles of (Latin) popular dance," says Pederneiras.
"They vary by country and many different regions. But they all have one point in common — all movements start on the hips."
That hip movement develops into sometimes sinuous, sometimes stomping, sometimes airborne choreography that variously hints at mambo, samba, folk and tribal dance but ultimately becomes its own art form.
The Ann Arbor programs include Pederneiras' "Parabelo," from 1997, a dance inspired by the folk art of a poverty-stricken region of northern Brazil.
"Even though the people are very poor, their art is fantastic, full of happiness and color," he says.
He adds the dance is intended to express that color and joy.
A newer piece, 2009's "Ima," fills out the program. It is more abstract, with a theme he calls "magneto," about attraction and repulsion.
The piece features solos, duets and ensembles in succession, contrasting emptiness with fullness, union with dispersion.
Grupo Corpo was founded in 1975 as a family enterprise.
Pederneiras' parents moved out of their family home in Belo Horizonte, a Brazilian state capital, so it could house the fledgling company.
"My brothers and friends were young people who studied dance (Rodrigo had danced in Argentina with Oscar Araiz's celebrated troupe), and we wanted to make dance our profession here in Belo Horizonte, which had no professional company," he says.
His older brother Paulo is artistic director, while other siblings and friends have danced, designed sets or done other behind-the-scenes work for the troupe.
At first, the troupe based its dances on the music of Brazilian pop composers, but later branched out to European classical music.
As the company's reputation has grown, it has commissioned scores from Brazilian musicians.
Now, widely considered Brazil's most celebrated dance troupe, Grupo Corpo takes its unique dance perspective to the world.
Barbara Hoover is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110120/ENT05/101200321/Dance-from-Brazil-&-China