For its latest Santa Barbara area performance, Brazilian contemporary dance company Grupo Corpo is showcasing a pair of works described as “mythic” by the man who created them. On February 25, the 21-member dance group will take the stage of the Granada Theatre for a USCB Arts & Lectures performance featuring two very different dance pieces created by Grupo Corpo choreographer and founder Rodrigo Pederneiras. Whereas the first, “Bach,” serves as a modern tribute to the music of classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach, the second piece “Gira” is dedicated to Umbanda, a religion specific to the company’s home country.
Formed in 1975 by Mr. Pederneiras and his set designer brother Paulo Pederneiras, whose sets and lighting feature in both pieces, Grupo Corpo celebrates all facets of Brazilian culture through its dances. Though the baroque character of “Bach” may at first seem more distant from Brazilian culture than “Gira,” the choreographer told the News-Press that the opening number’s color scheme is entirely Brazilian. With a stage bathed in blue light and the Grupo Corpo dancers clad in shining gold outfits, the piece’s aesthetics are specifically those of Brazilian baroque. According to Mr. Pederneiras, when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they brought with them baroque art and architecture of a religious nature. Eventually, the South American country’s take on that baroque style ended up taking on a different color scheme than its Portuguese counterpart.
“Brazilian baroque has stronger colors, the gold and the blue,” he said.
As one can see from a “Bach” excerpt on Grupo Corpo’s official YouTube channel, the piece’s stage setup includes poles dangling from the ceiling above the stage. Throughout the piece, the dancers move to music that composer Marco Antonio Guimaraes wrote based on Bach pieces and occasionally climb up the poles to perform choreography above the ground. This airborne movement is intended to make the viewer look up and resultantly see the dance’s subject on a larger scale.
“It’s a very simple idea. It’s a tribute to Bach, but looking at Bach as a bigger person,” Mr. Pederneiras said.
While “Bach” does reflect Brazil’s own take on baroque, Mr. Pederneiras remarked that “Bach” is the more universal of the two, whereas “Gira” is more Brazilian in character. Featuring music by Brazilian fusion group Meta Meta, “Gira” pays tribute to the Brazilian religion Umbanda, a mix of Catholicism, the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, and spiritism. Whenever Mr. Pederneiras puts together a new piece, he only does so after the music has been composed. However, having Meta Meta’s music wasn’t enough in creating “Gira.” This required the choreographer to live with Umbanda followers every day for three months and absorb everything he could about the religion and its rituals, which are performed in large spaces. Describing the Umbanda rituals as “absolutely beautiful,” Mr. Pederneiras looked back on that preparatory period fondly.“
“It was a very special, strong experience for me,” he said.
As the Santa Barbara audience drinks in Grupo Corpo’s performance early next week, Mr. Pederneiras particularly wants the local audience to enjoy “Gira.” Whereas he expects the local viewers will respond to the cultural familiarity of “Bach,” Mr. Pederneiras hopes they will do likewise for a piece that is “very Brazilian” and respond to it with the same enthusiasm as audiences in his own country.
“I hope people understand it and feel what we feel when we see this piece,” he said.
Tickets for Grupo Corpo’s February 25 performance at the Granada Theatre can be purchased online at artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The show will begin at 8 p.m. at the Granada Theatre, located 1214 State St.