In the middle of São Paulo Dance Company’s UK debut is a pas de deux, between the dancers Ammanda Rosa and Nielson Souza, that is the highlight of the whole evening. Sometimes it’s impossible to describe why a dancer is so good, what it is that elevates them above others, except that you watch them with wonder and everything seems so … right, somehow. Rosa especially, with her close-cropped hair and pliable strength, is in control of her instrument in a way that seemingly transcends the sweat and guts it takes to get this good. There’s no projected showmanship or ardent love story between the pair, but something natural and inevitable, like the forces of nature at work on their bodies: folding, stretching, torquing, through and around each other.
It takes something special to stand out in this group of fine dancers, in a triple bill that gives us quality across the board. Everything’s well executed, beautifully lit, the dancing’s technical and athletic, in choreography from two well-established Spanish choreographers, Nacho Duato and Goyo Montero, and Brazilian Cassi Abranches (who recently contributed to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Black Sabbath ballet).
Duato’s Gnawa, featuring the aforementioned duet, is inspired by the Gnawa people and their music that mixes Islamic Sufism and African folk (although here interpreted by seven composers). Duato, who’s currently artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg, makes movement with ingrained elegance and real precision to every placement, yet it all flows sinuously. Montero’s Anthem is a bit of a head-scratcher, something primal about bodies moving in ritualistic unison on a stage full of chalky haze.
Things get mildly funkier in Abranches’ Agora (meaning “Now”), with its Afro-Brazilian percussion and soundtrack by Brazilian rock musician Sebastian Piracés. Here we can revel in the dancing, the power, energy and skill of these bodies, their bursts of footwork – although there’s a strong sense of containment even when the women are launching themselves feet-first into the arms of the men. On the whole, the choreography is not as memorable as the excellent dancers, who are well worth seeing, even if the work itself doesn’t grab you by the throat.
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