NAC Dance: Grupo Corpo brings Bach and Brazil to Southam Hall

Grupo Corpo. Photo: José Luiz Pederneiras

The Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo started in 1975 as a real family affair.

Paolo Pederneiras started it all and he was later joined by his brother Rodrigo who is now the company’s principal choreographer.

Grupo Corpo will perform at the National Arts Centre on Feb. 9.

Before the show, Rodrigo Pederneiras spoke with ARTSFILE about the company and the show.

“We are a 44 year old dance company. When we started we were 10 in the company. We wanted to make dance our profession but in the city where we lived, Belo Horizonte, there wasn’t a professional company then, so we started our own. I have two brothers inside the company, one sister and my son works with us.”

The family focus was always modern dance, he says.

“In my case, I started as a ballet dancer. My first professional experience was in Buenos Aires, but I never danced classical ballet. It was always modern dance.”

By the 1980s, Grupo Corpo was emerging as one of Brazil’s leading companies and in that period the company started to blend classical ballet techniques with modern Brazilian dance forms. This has become the company’s signature and it has taken them around the world and to the stage of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The company is currently on a North American tour and before Ottawa they were in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where Pederneiras was for this phone interview.

That mix of classical and modern will be fully on stage Saturday.

The group will perform two pieces: Bach, which features the composer’s music arranged by the Brazilian composer, cellist and friend of Grupo Corpo, Marco Antônio Guimarães, and Gira, which is an exploration of a uniquely Brazilian religion, with music by Metá Metá, one of the most important music ensembles working in Brazil.  

The idea for the first piece was as a tribute, Pederneiras said. “Or more accurately a reverence to Bach because I love Bach and the composer loves Bach.”

Since 1992, all of Grupo Corpo’s pieces have featured commissioned music, Pederneiras said. Guimarães has done five pieces for the company over the years. Bach is actually an earlier work, Pederneiras said. It was premiered in 1996. 

A crucial part of this performance is the staging which sees a number of pipes, resembling organ pipes in a physical metaphor for Bach’s music, hanging from the rafters. At one point the dancers are seen on the ropes holding pipes suspended above the stage.

Gira is recent and totally different in inspiration and delivery.

“It’s a year and a half old,” he said. ” In Brazil we have a kind of religion named Umbanda. Inside Umbanda you have strands of African religion, Catholicism and from Indigenous religions.” These are three religious traditions that have come together in the new world, Pederneiras said. 

“Brazilian culture is this,” he added.

It was this combination of rituals that appealed to Metá Metá, he said. The group is very much anchored in exploring Brazilian music, especially African influences in Brazilian culture. The name Metá Metá is actually a word in the African language of Yoruba that means three in one. Grupo Corpo asked the group to come up with an idea for a dance piece and they proposed music based on Umbanda.

“The idea of this dance is to pay tribute to this religion. They have many problems with other religions in Brazil,” Pederneiras said.

To do research for his choreography, he started to visit Umbanda ceremonies.

His own background is Roman Catholic so he said he needed to get a sense of the other influences.

“I went into the places where the rituals happened and I stayed there three months. I was learning how each entity has a special way to move and dance. It was hard, but I love the result.”

He’s not a convert but, Pederneiras says, he still visits these churches when he can. “They became good good friends.”

Grupo Corpo has been at the NAC a few times in past years. A winter visit, however, “is a little bit hard for us. Now in Brazil we have 35C.”

No doubt it will be warm inside Southam Hall Saturday night.

Grupo Corpo
Where: Southam Hall
When: Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.