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Balé da Cidade de São Paulo

STEPS #12 International Dance Festival Switzerland
The Migros Culture Percentage Dance Festival

by Renée E. D'Aoust

May 2, 2010 -- Palazzo dei Congressi, Lugano, Switzerland

The two pieces on the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo program for the STEPS International Dance Festival, sponsored by Migros, and currently taking place across Switzerland, allowed the dancers to prove their contemporary range -- wisely, I thought, given the marketing of the Company as one that has “absorbed the colorful, body-focused culture of Brazil.”  The additional reference to a “body cult” sounds salacious, however translations aside, Balé da Cidade de São Paulo is fabulous.

Set to Mano Bap’s electronic score, Luiz Fernando Bongiovanni’s “Dicotomia” is a sleek look at imitative and derivative motion, as dancers shadow each other in pairs or trios or more, using the scrim, curtains, and each other to move about their daily, abstract lives.  Although they look young, the dancers are incredible technicians and consummate professionals.  Plus, they perform body undulations that make a heart ache.  How are they so human and so sensual, without being sleazy?

There is a moment in “Coisas que ajudam a viver”—“Things that Help to Live”—when the largest man of the Company places his head over the heart of a petite woman.  He moves his head above her heart as she pulsates.  Then he moves his head above her pelvis, too, which is achingly echoed in the layered score by Ed Côrtes.  The description makes this sound sexual, but it is something more akin to birth—and rebirth.

Some sections of “Coisas que ajudam a viver” sum up how we go about our lives.  A tree is smashed onto the stage, and several bodies take their places beneath it.  Wrapped in plastic and burlap, this tree never thrives.  What about the grass beneath?  Astroturf.  Such is nature, suggests choreographer Susana Yamauchi.  One dancer evokes the beautiful beaches of Brazil as she holds a red sun that looks like a lollipop while a stage set of child-colored waves, pulled by several dancers, rolls back and forth.  Various sets function as a foil to the activity, which involves a huge mass of dancers.  The clown couple looks particularly sweet as they distribute hats at the wedding.  Mr. Clown gives a flower to his lady—but not to her, to her foot.  Holding the daisy in her toes, she walks forward, never losing track of her hats, all the while looking spellbound, not giddy.

At one point, I counted twenty dancers onstage, but there might have been more.  After a lone man befriends a stray dog that keeps fetching his ball, suddenly there are more dogs and other animals, too.  The action crosses the species barrier as the man becomes the dog, and the dog, the man.  We need flexibility to live well is the take-away message.  In a dance from Brazil, about things needed to live, we also have the requisite soccer ball.  Pelé could have been a dancer just as much as a soccer hero, and the reverse is true of the dancer adeptly juggling the ball with his foot.

A series of snaking paths made by human bodies opens “Coisas que ajudam a viver,” but the end is simple.  The table that is used for the wedding feast and later for safe harbor when dancers hide behind it, becomes a bed, a refuge.  After the teaming mass of humanity recedes, one dancer lies alone, left behind as papers fall around her.

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